MEMBER PROFILE FOR Symmetric-XBA

Total Reviews: 213
Average Overall Score Given: 7.50751 / 10
Total Forum Posts: 1862

Reviews
Serial Cleaner

Back in the 70's life was much simpler. There was church on Sunday, organized crime was prevelant, and there were those that "cleaned up the mess" so to speak. Things were simple, and that's how Curve Digital likes it in their latest release, Serial Cleaner for the Xbox One. Priced at $14.99, you can imagine that Serial Cleaner is going to have to put on one quality show to warrant a higher price tag for a geometric puzzle game. Is this retro looking 'clean up game' worth it though?

I previously mentioned the word simple because that is what Serial Cleaner is. SIMPLE. Deceptively simple. As you would think, given the title of the game, you play the role of "The Cleaner" who lives with his family. He has a normal house in a normal suburban neighborhood and drives a red station wagon. Yep, you are definitely painted as the "normal kid"; however, all that changes once you get a phone call to 'clean' as we see the flip side of the coin. Each phone call represents a different job (level) that your cleaner skills is going to have to take care of. Now, to do that you will have to accomplish a few tasks.

First off, you have to dispose of numerous bodies that are scattered about the crime scene. Then, while you're doing that you will also have to look for various pieces of evidence, but you have to be careful, because when you remove a piece of evidence you will alert police who will be drawn to that area to search to see where the evidence is/has gone. While you're doing all of that you will also have to use your magical vacuum (seriously, like an ancient 1960's massive upright vacuum) to vacuum up a certain amount of blood (you are a cleaner after all). To make all of this worth your time, each job has a souvenir that you can collect and store in your trophy room at your home.

Here's the kicker though, you will have to do all of this while managing to avoid the 'cones of vision' that come from the patrolling police officers. To do this you have to hide in various outlets, and utilize the map to your advantage by triggering switches at correct times to shift the layout and design of the map in your favor. In order to see all these possible outlets and avenues you will have what is called 'cleaner vision' where you hold the LT and the map zooms out to give you an overview of the entire area.

In this view you will see where bodies are laying, the evidence is sitting, hiding spots, body disposal sites, and so much more. Sadly though, you cannot move while in this vision mode so it's best to plan your pathway well in advance, because should you get caught, the level will reset and all the bodies and evidence will be moved around thus taking your well thought out plan and tossing it right out the window. Once you have completed the tasks, which means you've cleaned the area, you hop in your station wagon and flee the scene.

Things seem simple enough though right? Nothing too challenging....well, you'd be wrong. As you start progressing through the levels the difficulty level ramps up. While the preliminary missions allow you to get you used to the fundamentals of the game itself, the real challenge is when Serial Cleaner expands the map size and increases the number of officers patrolling. I've lost count how many times I've had a great plan laid out I have executed it perfectly, but then on the last body, I hit a switch that activates one end, but opens another which draws the attention of a police officer who then comes and spots me, chases me down and I have to restart the level and my plan. This is incredibly frustrating, which is why I said Serial Cleaner is deceptively simple.

Now, if I'm honest, there isn't much in terms of replayability for Serial Cleaner, but to help that out Curve Digital has scattered numerous Easter eggs throughout the levels. If you take the time to explore the maps and levels there are hidden items that you come across that act as bonus missions you can play. These are are parodies of various movies such as Aliens and Star Wars. Personally, I think these levels alone are worth their own standalone game as the whole "hide and seek" aspect works wonders across a lot of iconic movies and genres.

I have to admit that I am not too particularly fond of the visual presentation of the game itself. I'm not a fan of the geometric layout and design, nor the music, but while I can play some different music through a different source, I can't do anything about the graphics. That's normally about the time when you start to realize the sad reality of Serial Cleaner. There's little replayability for a game that's based off one core aspect, and something like this unfortunately starts you off right behind the 8 ball. Couple this with mediocre music and a graphic style that is almost an insult to the 70's with its bland atmosphere, you understand that $14.99 seems to be too much to pay for a $4.99 game. Sadly, while not true organized crime, $14.99 for Serial Cleaner is feels like organized theft at this price.

Overall Score: 6.3 / 10 DeadCore

Puzzle platforming games don't seem to get the recognition that other genres get; however, there is undoubtedly tons of merit and value to be found should a game of this nature be executed properly. This was the belief that led developer Grip Games to release their latest puzzle platformer, DeadCore, on the Xbox One. Armed with guns that shoot, think of this game as the spawn of titles that have come before it, like Portal and Quake. There is one simple goal in DeadCore, make it to the top of the tower as quick as you can, and of course in one piece. It seems oh so simple right? However, is it worth the $7.99 price point to pick up a game that came out almost 4 years ago on PC? Let's hop to it and find out.

When you start off there are a few things you'll notice right from the beginning. First off, the game looks beautiful in the visual department. An entire swirling celestial atmosphere that is enveloping this seemingly colossal structure. And all of eye candy is joined in harmony by a minimalistic, almost "Tron" type soundtrack that settles nerves but also stages a false narrative by misleading you into realms of comfort when none really exists.

At the beginning of the game you are given some options, but I would strongly recommend checking out the settings before diving right into the story, which shouldn't really be called "story" as you just need to complete room after room of puzzles. Nevertheless, once you hit that button for story mode, get ready for the ride of your life, virtually speaking.

When you start you'll find yourself tumbling in a free fall decent, and when you land (I'm guessing in a super hero way) you'll be taking your first steps towards many, many failures. The game doesn't do much in terms of hand holding, so your controls may feel a bit off at first. For example, the default jump button for a lot of games is what, the A button? Maybe the B button? In DeadCore the jump button is LT. Yup, the LT button is your jump button where you can also press it twice for a double jump move; however, this is where you'll also be introduced to one of, if not the biggest hiccups of DeadCore, the gameplay.

Earlier I mentioned have elements of the games Portal and Quake feel like they are incorporated, and that is because these games offer a gameplay control setup that is very "floaty" and focused on speed. This is the same style of movement that you will find in DeadCore, which makes the narrow, rotating platforms that that you have to jump to seem half a mile away, almost impossible to hit. I say almost because since you're going to die A LOT, you'll eventually have a run where your twitch muscle movements will pay off and you will solve the puzzle and proceed on to the next one.

DeadCore is a game where you literally live the iconic Top Gun line "You don't have time to think up there, if you think, you're dead." This is thanks to the fact that the game places its own devices in your path to stop you from completing the puzzles. These items include things like turrets and thruster jets that propel you in the direction they are pointing.

Now, you may be thinking that with floaty controls on narrow and tiny platforms and surfaces, placing things like this to add more challenge would make the game impossible, and in some cases you would be right; however, DeadCore grants you items to use, such as your new best friend your laser rifle to help you. This gun will shoot at opposing obstacles and temporarily turn them 'off', which will allow you crucial time to make the critical jumps to life saving freedom, and DeadCore is a game where you'll need every spare moment you can find. So, as you can clearly see, the game is trying to create a puzzle platformer that is simple on the outside, yet extremely challenging when you get into it and that got me thinking.

DeadCore could have been better had the gameplay been more precise. There were countless times where I hit a vertical platform and had no idea where to go, so I ended up looking downward so I could see the area that I had to land on. Other times I would do what would normally be a simple jump and it would seem like I hung in the air for multiple seconds waiting to just land so I could continue on.

While games like Portal and Quake managed to incorporate a highly sensitive and floaty gameplay mechanics, this open puzzle world of DeadCore doesn't fit within this scope that much, if at all. And then when you factor in the fact that countless times you will be required to perform split second actions, you start to get the sense that this game is designed to set you up to fail and fail, and fail some more. While some may think of this drawback as relatively minor, sadly it isn't and here's why.

When your game is dependent upon trying to tirelessly get one's jumping and reflexes to be pinpoint accurate, you have to have a mechanic system in place to allow for those actions to happen, and sadly that isn't found here. So, when your entire structure is already flawed in terms of how the user interacts with your game environment, then every moment you experience DeadCore will lead you to the same, controller smashing frustration. And while yes, it does offer a tremendous feeling of accomplishment when you complete a section, those moments are few and very far between, especially since you'll probably end up giving up well before then anyways.

The big question though: "Is DeadCore worth the $8 price tag?" In terms of value for dollar, not really. In terms of a challenging platforming puzzle game for fans of the genre, yes. DeadCore tries to draw its inspiration from other games; however, it lacks a solid gameplay structure, and therefore doesn't allow one to effectively interact with the game. You have to get the basics right before considering any extras and sadly DeadCore falls flat on its face here. While it may excel on a PC platform, trying to make the switch to consoles isn't always a successful transition as evidenced with DeadCore. Only die hard puzzle platform fans need apply here.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Air Guitar Warrior Gamepad Edition

For those that know me, you should know I loathe Kinect. I don't think there are many software applications that are a "must have", and in fact, I find the whole thing a tremendous amount of failed potential. Now, let's talk about Air Guitar Warrior: Gamepad Edition from Virtual Air Guitar Company (I mean honestly, what other company would make Air Guitar right?) Air Guitar Warrior: Gamepad Edition is priced at $14.99 and it was my job to take this one out for a spin to see if it's worth it. What did I find out? Quite a lot actually.

For starters, the game is laid out with music albums on the screen and your job is to side scroll throughout the various songs, and press either the A or X button to fire various types of shots from your guitar. Now, all guitars have the same firing modes, but different shots, so you will need to become familiar with what works best for you. You will run out of ammo, but switching firing styles (press X instead of A) will allow your ammo to recharge thus enabling you to keep on shooting. However, there's a problem with this concept right off the beginning, as there is there's no real scoring system.

The game grades you on how many enemies you shoot down and that somehow gives you a percentage at the end, for some reason, and I don't know why because it's meaningless. With every enemy you kill you'll earn pieces of experience that will add up and level up your character, provided you actually play this long enough to care why. As you level up though you will unlock new abilities that will happen with new button press combinations, but other than that, as you progress you'll unlock new air guitars and this is pretty much the entire point of the game.

Everything I just said above could be the entire review right there. That's because there is so little to this game that you have nothing to hide behind or distract gamers with if there should be an aspect or two that doesn't seem to turn out the way you want it.

The graphics behind every song give a unique feel until you realize that there is a lot of repetition built into the game, and then you see that even in terms of environments and enemies that there isn't much variety. Your "ride" (if you want to call it that) will change from sharks with lasers, to a robotic T-Rex and even a unicorn, but when you watch the same aliens, skulls, etc. side scroll their way onto the screen as you blast them into oblivion, repeating over and over again, it will leave you with little enjoyment, and that's when it hit me about this game. It's going through a sort of identity crisis.

The Kinect version at least allowed you to partake in the enjoyment of physically strumming to fire, but in an odd state of reality, the enjoyment was lost when going to the gamepad version and actually reducing the way the game is played. I know this will probably send shock waves through the gaming community, but this is a unicorn moment, as the Kinect version of Air Guitar Warrior gives you more enjoyment than a non-Kinect version of the same game. The lack of enjoyment of the 'Gamepad Edition' continues to spread into the music which (when you're making a game where the focus is music) doesn't make much sense. And that's when the lightbulb clicked.

There's no replay factor. Like almost none at all. You have your character and you go through the game's tunes that feel more of a marketing ploy for an artist or band, and then you move onto the next song. Depending on if you don't die, you'll move onto the next track, and even though the levels get crazy towards the end, there is a microscopic amount of replayability. There are achievements such as kill X number of monsters with ______ guitar which will require you to grind over and over and over again, but that's when whatever enjoyment that could be found within this game is snuffed out like a candle in the wind.

Should you plunk down $14.99 plus tax on the 'Gamepad Edition'? In simple terms, I would say no. There is little to no replay value, mediocre music, and if you already own the Kinect version then you already have the best version available. On the plus side though, if you don't have a Kinect, then consider yourself blessed as you won't have to waste money on Air Guitar Warrior: Gamepad Edition.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Golf Club 2, The

Now, I should make this clear, I am probably the worst golfer on the planet. I've hit drives that have curled and gone behind me, so yeah, sadly you can't stand anywhere and be safe with me. Despite this though, I love golf. I love the endless pursuit of perfect muscle memory and sensory adaptation on the fly to project a small ball numerous football fields in length into a cup no bigger than your fist.

In the past Microsoft had a game called Links which, in my opinion, was a fantastic golf game thanks to its attention to a more realistic approach. Sadly, that series is long gone and in its place we have games like the recently released The Golf Club 2, developed by HB Studios and published by Maximum Games, which aims to deliver a truly authentic golfing experience that is more on the side of simulation than arcade. Priced at $40, if the quality is there, The Golf Club 2 (TGC2) should make the big companies a little concerned. So, does TGC2 hit a hole in one, or does it reach the stroke limit and head to the clubhouse in shame?

I mentioned that TGC2 is more of a simulation than an arcade experience. Instead of arcade style golf games like EA's PGA Tour Series, where you can control the spin of the ball in mid-flight and you had landing zones and all other kinds of guidelines to help you (granted as the games progressed you could turn all that off), in TGC2 you get very, very little. This makes the entire game more realistic, but if the execution is subpar, then it really doesn't matter.

When you start off you're going to select which analog stick you wish to use for your swing, I personally chose LS because that's what I've always used. Now, the swing is measured in a few ways, and I'll use my LS choice in this example. You end up pulling back (down) and your golfer will start his/her backswing. At the top point of the backswing you will push the stick forward (up) and your golfer will proceed with their follow through. Now you just read that your swing is measured in a few ways and here they are.

Your backswing is measured by distance and tempo and can range from slow to perfect. Your follow through is also measured on the same guidelines, but both are also measured by how straight your motion on the backswing and follow through are. Should your thumb slide too far off to the side, your ball will sail wildly into deep rough causing you all kinds of trouble. Now, while we are talking about the swing mechanics, I have a few issues to point out.

The first one is that at times the game can suffer from graphical lag which can affect your input of your swing and your timing. This isn't good when you have a game based off of visual input. This can cause numerous shots where you wanted a lighter touch but end up crushing your approach shot to well off the green. This issue is especially annoying when you are putting. Dear Lord it can be horrible, as you think you can hit a soft 7 foot put, but you end up thrashing it 15-20 feet past the hole. The tutorial will help you get a rough feel for it, but thankfully there is a driving range, chipping area, and putting practice so you can go through various lies and shot types to get a sense of how the ball and club will react. I can't stress enough how important it is that you spend a lot of time here as you will need to get used to another aspect of your swing. The adjustments.

To help you a little bit, the game allows you to press the X button to change between normal shot, pitch, flop, punch, etc. However, that's only going to adjust the type of shot and the distance, for further adjustments you need to hold the LT. You can't alter the ball mid-flight like you can in other fantasy golf games, so by using the LT like this TGC2 offers you the ability to alter your shot. Upon pressing the LT, it opens up your shot modification menu and allows you adjust the loft (more or less) as well as your push or pull of the ball upon impact. This is tricky as your different angles will do different things to your ball.

For instance, let's say you have a club that hits 175 yards, and you decide to put maximum loft on the ball (which will naturally shorten the distance of the club), and just like in life you won't be able to see how much the increase in loft will affect your ball, so you'll have to do the famous try and try again until you understand about how much distance giving full loft takes away from your shot. These nuances will either make or break your round of virual golf, so expect to replay some courses many, many times as you now take into account wind, ball placement (does it rest on the side or angle of a hill or flat?) and other varying factors that will plague you throughout your rounds. It's as realistic as it can get for a console golf game.

Thankfully, you're going to be taking part in a short tutorial on the various types of shots, clubs, etc. Upon completion of this you can customize your character. There's much to adjust and customize as long as you have the virtual coin to do it. All of it is pure cosmetic so unless you want to go for the achievement of collecting over 100 items of clothing, hats, etc., you don't have to spend your coins here. The reason is you can also edit your current items and give them different colors, logos, and other distinct looks. After your stint customizing your player, it's time to get down to business. There are two main modes you'll choose from: play and career. Let's tackle the play mode first.

In the play mode you can select your course through a variety of course selection choices such as friend's favorites, your own favorites, to official courses and much, much more. Once you have selected the course you can edit gameplay it how you want such as tee locations and so on. Multiplayer is an option, but as of this time I hadn't played a round of it yet. Before you dive into a round you're given some options such as check out more courses by the creator, favorite this one, etc. However, there's one important option in the top right corner and that says "practice". Sometimes getting in a practice round so you know what you're about to get into is going to be beneficial so you're not blind out there. Each course also carries with it various challenges for select holes such as score under par on hole 7 with one putt or less. Completing these challenges will earn you coins and completing 200 challenges will earn you an achievement.

The other mode, your career mode, is where you can get your first taste of TGC2's offering called Societies. Your career society is different than your multiplayer one, however your career one is where you select varying amounts of events to construct an entire season. The more you level up your career society, the more events you can compete in within one season thus earning you more money, etc. There isn't to much to go on with regards to the seasons and leveling up your society clubhouse to hold more events because there really isn't a point outside of leveling up your golfer. You can also make your clubhouse more and more appealing at you go through the career mode. There are ghosts and rivals you can load into your game should you feel the need to have some form of direct competition, which includes the developers themselves, and it's safe to say that the latter know these courses very, very well.

One of the many aspects of golf has to be the scenery. The environment that includes these sweeping fairways, and ever lurking tall roughs, is incredible in TGC2, so good in fact that there are some graphics issues (one I already mentioned about the swing) where the environment will "pop" in elements such as trees and rocks, etc. that you didn't see before which causes moments of screen tearing. Another slight gripe would the loading times. In a golf game it seems like the most extensive item to load would be the surrounding environment, however, for some reason the times loading a tournament, and in between holes, is rather long and with no way to speed up the animation of your ball, sometimes you find yourself waiting... and waiting... and waiting. It might be something to do with the Unity graphics engine they are using, and I could only imagine what would happen with a better tools in this area.

Despite some graphic hiccups upon some good looking visuals, I'm sorry to say that the music, while tranquil and peaceful (as golf music should be) isn't memorable and the voice acting for the announcer leaves a lot to be desired as well. The clubs sound solid though, as each wood, iron, and specialty club sound different from one another, and hitting from different terrain (e.g. fairway, rough, sand trap, etc.) which is important in a game like this.

Now, I know it seems like I'm coming down on this game here and there, but despite some of the drawbacks, The Golf Club 2 is, right now, the elite golf experience on the Xbox platform. With EA having a tough time with their golf game, HB Studios simply crushed it with The Golf Club 2. It's going to seem frustrating, aggravating (especially putting), and at times it will test the durability of an Xbox Elite controller, but all of that stress, anguish, and turmoil melts away instantly when you unlock the achievement of getting a hole-in-one from over 250+ yards (I literally jumped up yelling and cheering when I hit it). Then it's back to normal and I ended up getting a bogey on the next hole. One thing is for certain, and that's The Golf Game 2 will take you on a ride of emotions. Is it worth $39.99 plus tax? Without a doubt it is.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Victor Vran: Overkill Edition

Normally when you consider a video game purchase you tend to gravitate to games that give you an incredible amount of value, including gameplay length. Games that end up ultimately draining weeks, months, and in some cases, years out of your life make sense, as you want to get the most value for dollar. Recently Haemimont Games released a two-year-old game called Victor Vran to the price tag of $40 USD. Now, normally I'd already see warning signs everywhere; however, this time is a bit different. Actually, it's a lot different and let me tell you why.

Victor Vran is an action RPG game that is similar in scope to Diablo, an iconic dungeon crawler, loot focused bonanza of a game that draws you in and never lets you go. So, already you can get a sense for where I'm going with this. Victor Vran has utilized some of the greatest aspects and characteristics of Diablo and implemented it into its own gameplay, which automatically makes its' foundation one of the best you'll find in the genre. Normally you would just get the base game; however, this release of Victor Vran (Overkill Edition) is where you actually get two DLC content packs as well. While I would strongly, and I repeat, strongly recommend that you consider tackling these areas only after your character becomes a high level, you get a feeling that already you get a lot of content for your $40 + tax. But is it any good?

Without any hesitation, yes. It's phenomenal actually. If you're taking a break from Diablo, or want an incredibly well put together dungeon crawler, look no further. Let's start off first with the story. Actually, I'll give you the note card version. You play the role of a hunter named Victor Vran who is a little more than he seems to be. You find yourself drawn to the town of Zagoravia as you find yourself looking for your lost friend who was also a hunter. Throughout your quest for your friend you will find many twists and turns, and as you uncover the map you're also going to be introduced to something called "The Voice". Think of this as a witty, little devil on your shoulder, type voice that uses fantastic writing to deliver a performance that was one of the biggest surprises to me. With me being a Star Wars fan and hearing the voice say "Victor... I have to tell you something.... I. AM. YOUR. FATHER.......NOOOOOOOO" and I was in bliss. These types of moments are what give the little nuances of the game it's life.

Another time "The Voice" mocked me for finding a chest that had a regular item in it. It said "Oh congratulations Victor, you've found some trash. Let's see if you can find 4 more chests of trash, ok? I'll even throw in a pie if you do." So, I set off and while finding more chests I kept hearing about this pie, and then on the 4th out of five chests found, I'm told "My pie isn't a lie." and a smile crept over my face. Was the pie there? Was it a lie? Play the game and find out!

These nuances within the game really help Victor Vran establish its own identity. When playing a dungeon crawler you really only have to follow one simple rule: Do what Diablo does, then just alter it in some ways. It's quite simple that way and that's essentially what you have here. So, when you have such similarities, finding ways to accent the differences is ever more important (cue legal department phone call).

Now, the biggest challenge outside of the camera for a good dungeon crawler, or any game for that matter, has to be the user interface. For the longest time there have been very few quality dungeon crawlers on console as they have mainly been PC only, but now developers have found ways to implement the input choices found for the players and have mapped them onto a controller that allows the game to be played on consoles. To make this successful you MUST, and I repeat, MUST, have a way to make the controls feel symmetrical yet sequential. Let me explain. For instance, in Victor Vran you can operate two demon powers, and carry two items. Each demon power is mapped to the triggers, so LT fires one and the RT fires the second, and when it comes to items you have left and right on the D-Pad, so the symmetry creates a balanced gameplay that frees up the face buttons to designated attacks. I almost forgot, you're also able to carry and use two weapons. Using the RB you can switch between your primary and secondary weapon and use the corresponding X, Y, and B buttons for your new attacks.

I mentioned demon powers above and that's only one part of your character's outfit. In fact, Victor Vran makes it a point to focus partly on your character's outfit. Opposite of your health bar (again, symmetry) is your Overdrive meter. When this gets filled you can use your demon powers. Filling your Overdrive meter can happen a couple of ways. You can gain Overdrive by attacking and killing enemies (there's plenty of them around), or you can wear a suit where you're granted about 80 points of Overdrive per second, but your attacks no longer produce it. After thinking that if I were methodical and patient, I could progress through each section of the map and have a full Overdrive meter whenever I accessed a new area. With this in mind I chose to take a suit that filled it automatically. One other bonus here is that if you take the other style suit, and you fill the meter but don't use it, then after a while it will all go away. There are suits to modify your Overdrive, but those are considered Legendary outfits which leads me to my next section, loot.

There's a ton of it. Throughout your grinding you'll easily generate pages and pages of inventory that can be used for a couple different purposes. First off is the gold. Items you sell will bring you cash, it's not a new concept, but the second reason for hoarding all this loot is incredibly unique and that is the Transmutation.

Weapons, Demon Powers, and Skill Cards can all be part of the Transmutation, which is Victor Vran's way of giving you a choice of how you want to play the game. Transmutation is when you have a singular base slot that is modified or created using ingredient slots. Let's say you have four regular weapons that aren't really anything special. You can assign 3 of them as ingredients in their slots and leave the base blank. When you Transmute them you will get another common weapon, but with different stats and traits. If you do this for 3 rare (yellow) weapons, you will be guaranteed a yellow weapon, but also have a chance to land a Legendary weapon instead. Let's say you want to increase the damage of an uncommon (green) weapon, you would have to use the weapon you wanted to increase the damage of as the singular base, then put 3 uncommon or better weapons below as ingredients (they don't have to be the same weapons), and if you wanted to increase a weapon's ability you would have to use corresponding recipes with demon powers.

This is a prime example, and just a fraction of the sheer depth that Victor Vran offers to its players. Sure, you could just cash out and take the money, however with tremendous opportunities with Transmutation, don't be surprised if you find yourself with tons of pages of weapons as you combine and manipulate some incredibly powerful and amazing ones. One interesting note to consider, Legendary weapons level up when you do, so get ready for evolutionary weaponry!

Presentation wise, the graphics and the sound are befitting a dungeon crawler and provide not only individual characteristics, but a quality that you can see in every little detail. Now, I know I've been fawning over this game now but I do have to admit that there are a couple issues with the game, and one of the biggest involves the dreaded enemy, the camera.

It can get a bit disorienting when trying to combine the map system in tandem with the camera system, and most of the time you find yourself trying to focus more on which direction to go, than on playing the game during these moments. And should you happen to go under a bridge, or in some form of enclosed area, the camera magically retracts to literally a few feet above which then takes you out of your ability to see, well, anything really. The second issue involves the game slowing to a crawl at times and locking up on quite a few occasions. A simple restart seems to fix it; however, one experience I had where my character was going down the stairs, the game froze, and then when I restarted the game, I waited over 6 minutes, just to get to the "Press any button" screen you see at the very beginning. After I pressed any button I had to wait to get to the main screen and that wait time was over 8 minutes. I decided to delete the game and restart, and that didn't work. Next up, deleting my save file and the game and installing again from fresh, and include a hard reboot and BAM! It was back to business as usual, but I lost everything.

For dungeon crawling, action RPG games that offer immense depth, 4-player multiplayer, and a high replay factor that isn't found on many multiplayer games, for the price of $19.99 is hands down the best value for dollar game you can find on the console right now. If you really want a big bang for your buck though, for $39.99 you get the Overkill Edition which gives you two DLC packs that are loaded with even more content on top of everything found in the original game. While Victor Vran isn't Diablo, and there were a few hiccups now and then, the experience you will have won't be any less enjoyable, and when you mix in the online experience with your friends, you'll wonder where the last few days of your life went, and then discover that it was claimed by Victor Vran, and you loved every moment of it.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Tango Fiesta

Ah yes, the summer is here. Full of sunshine, blue skies, kids on the street, maybe a slurpee in hand, oh, and there is a pile of Xbox One indie games that are designed to do one thing, take your money from your wallet. Recently, publisher Merge Games released a game called Tango Fiesta, and while priced in the mid-range of indie pricing ($9.99), this game tries to give you value for your money by making the most simplistic shooter while allowing you to carry as much explosives as you can, all mixed together with lighthearted humor that shows that the game doesn't take itself so seriously. But with that in mind, does that mean you shouldn't consider the choice to throw your $10 at it? Let's dive in shall we?

Ok, when I said simplistic, I was wrong. This game is colossally simplistic. Like so simplistic the tag line for this game could easily read Tango Fiesta: Just shoot everything. You have two choices in the game: Arcade or Story Mode. Arcade mode is just level after level of mindless killing while the game shows off an overwhelming number of explosions. Story mode is like Arcade mode, except you get a cheesy backstory that pertains to iconic action movies, but with a heavy dose of comedic satire. Tango Fiesta tries so hard to be a culmination of classic 80's and 90's action movies, ranging from Predator, Rambo and RoboCop, unfortunately it sadly doesn't do a good job in trying to pay homage to the source material. This is kind of unfortunate, as it seems like a missed chance here.

Whatever mode you pick you'll quickly grasp the concept that you have to kill everything. To do this you'll need to select from a group of characters such as Bionic Cop (RoboCop), John Strong (Arnold himself) and more. Each character offers different stats, but honestly Bionic Cop is the best as his stats are mostly maxed out except for speed. Tango Fiesta then takes your character and throws them into a random generated arena and lets you kill everything over and over again. This is thanks to a simplistic game mechanics that unfortunately suffer from incredible bugs.

First off, let's talk about the in-game movement. Using the left stick to move around is one thing; however, there are multiple items within the level itself that affect your movement and your battles. For example, let's say you're fighting a group of six enemies and between you and the group is a patch of grass. You try to shoot them and then you notice something strange. The grass stopped your bullet. Yes, your projectile was stopped by grass; however, your opponents' bullets go right through. Naturally this creates some disadvantage, but as you'll quickly notice, navigating the levels themselves are going to be the greatest obstacle you'll face.

With Tango Fiesta being a twin stick shooter, you would think that there would be an extensive range of fire with your controls, unfortunately you would be completely incorrect. In fact, the strict following of 8-axis fire is so severe that you'll find yourself deliberately trying to attack from either straight up or straight down, or from the direct left side or right side. There were even multiple times when I would try and throw a grenade, however, I noticed that the grenade would sometimes drop at my feet and explode, and there was no explanation for this.

Another knock on the gameplay has to come from the reloading method. See, if you hold down the right trigger and have your gun run out of ammo, you'll have to take your finger off the trigger while the game auto reloads and then place your finger back on to continue to fire. Since you have no knowledge of how close you are to an empty clip, you are almost thrown into situations blindly because your ammo counter is in microscopic text in the upper left corner. It's frustrating to say the least.

Now, normally I would talk about the graphics and sound, but I'm not going to. There's nothing to mention that is of any value to your time to read about. The tiny sprites try to over accentuate various aspects and characteristics of enemies and such, and the levels are generic in texture, tone and enjoyment. The sound is actually so bad that I turned it down except for one aspect of the game, the Gun Shop. Here you can unlock new weaponry for the right amount of in-game cash considering you fulfill the necessary requirements. The joy of this menu is that all the weaponry is presented to you in an Arnold impersonation voice and there is something about hearing "OOZI 9 Millimeter" in that voice that is eerily amusing.

While you can play Tango Fiesta as a single player game, sadly it only supports local 4-player co-op only. That's right folks, there may be millions of people on Xbox Live, but Tango Fiesta only allows for local co-op. I don't know why, I thought that we lived in a day and age where we wanted to connect to others outside of our couch? The only reason I can think of to justify the local play only is that back in the 80's that’s how we played our games. Had Tango Fiesta included online play with others, then it would have given it more hope and quite possibly sell better than it will as it stands now.

So, the big question is "Should you spend $9.99 plus tax on Tango Fiesta?" Well, gameplay mechanics are flawed, graphics and sound are passable at best, and there is a complete lack of online multiplayer; all of this makes not only the actual value low, but the replay value incredibly low as well. Given the sum of all of its' parts, there's no way I can recommend buying this game at that price. It's a shame because with such a wealth of content available to draw comedic inspiration from, Tango Fiesta just got terminated. If a sequel gets released though, and it fixes the issues of this game, I'll be back.

Overall Score: 4.5 / 10 RiME

We have all heard from people in the industry that gaming is an expression of art. Designers, artists and everyone involved collaborate on a digital canvas, producing their own piece of art. Tequila Works has taken this principle and have developed a new game called RiME. While some companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on making a game, Tequila Works has done something spectacularly well. What they've done is create a digital masterpiece of art. Let's take a look at what could make RiME a serious contender for game of the year.

Yes, you read that right, RiME is absolutely amazing. It tells a loose narrative where you must piece a world back together by navigating the various realms, all in an effort to discover your true destiny and what darkness haunts the lands. The story is just a watered down place holder; however, right from the beginning you'll be hit with the titanic beauty that is RiME.

RiME is one of the most beautiful games you will ever see, as it uses the Unreal Engine technology to produce some the most vibrant and bold images ever to grace our screens. When you start you'll see how the game essentially lets you discover it for yourself. This tactic could be misleading, though as the beauty you will find is amazing as you take extra time to uncover various hidden pathways that reveal unique relics and special secrets.

Throughout the various levels you will see parts of the overall experience that reside in a very large and open framework. When broken down though they are really very linear. Now, one of the biggest points going for RiME is the ability to create something with such depth and creativity while utilizing incredibly simple controls. The X button interacts with items, A button jumps, Y button activates your 'shout' and B lets you roll in the direction you move. Such basic controls, yet when put against the backdrop of a platforming adventure like RiME, is a stroke of pure brilliance. The challenge actually comes by you trying to figure things out since there is no hand holding. This takes us to the soul of this game, the puzzles.

Throughout the various levels, if you will, you'll come across many puzzles. Figuring these puzzles out will require some thought, but overall they aren't too challenging. Since there really isn't a run feature you'll find that most of the puzzles will take time simply because you have to find a way to get to them to solve them. Sadly though, what this ultimately boils down to is going through linear pathways to solve a puzzle that will unlock a new path to take, where at the end a puzzle it will need to be solved, rinse and repeat. So trying to figure out the path isn't as challenging as you would expect, and there is exploration, however, it's almost a pseudo open world concept. Essentially what I'm saying is that I'm being picky because I can't explore more of the game, but to compensate for that shortcoming RiME packs in one last piece of pure beauty, the soundtrack.

Hands down RiME is in my top 5 game soundtracks of all time, period. The orchestral composition, and the instruments used, weave a tapestry of audible harmony that will envelop you and submerge you deeper into the experience of RiME's beauty. Hearing the orchestra build and crescendo into a climax of masterful proportions. Navigating tombs and underwater palaces while being serenaded by sonic bliss is an experience you'll wholly enjoy.

These are just some of the examples of mastery you will hear throughout RiME. Not just the music, but every single piece of audible material is created with more attention to detail than we find in a lot of major blockbuster games, and from start to finish it is its own masterpiece to experience. Now it goes without saying that RiME seems to tick all the right boxes for being game of the year material, however, if we look closer, there are a few areas that have to be addressed.

First is the framerate. RiME is beautiful, but it slows down quite badley more often than not and the framerate becomes so unbearable that it takes you out of the beauty of this fluid artistic experience. RiME does use the Unreal Engine, but somehow the dev-team couldn't fine tune the graphics to keep up with the pace, and when a game is actually very slow, you wonder just what is going on with Tequila Works.

Another major issue is the initial loading time. I understand it has to load a few GB of data, however you could probably go get something to eat and still come back and it would still be loading. I think "The Hundred Year War" finished quicker... well probably. So, you have to wait an ungodly long period of time to load up a game that is so beautiful it slows its framerate down to the point where it severely impacts the overall experience somewhat. Oh, and earlier when I said that every single piece of audible material is beautiful, If forgot about one sound. The Y button 'shout' actually gets on your nerves, which doesn't go well considering how often you have to use it.

This got me slightly depressed, confused, and more all at once. I thought to myself, who would see the framerate issues and say yes that's a good idea, and let's do that? Could no one, absolutely no one figure out a way to improve the framerate that, if I'm honest, aren't so demanding? We're not talking hyper realism here. I am hoping for a patch to fix the framerate as it will let this artistic masterpiece shine even more.

I have a confession to make, after reviewing games for 9 years, I've never given a game a 10. Never. I always thought that gaming perfection was unobtainable simply because there is always room for improvement. Had the issues noted above not plagued RiME, this game would have been my first 10, and that was a sobering moment of just how big of an impact these issues can be. When you're talking about simplicity and doing more with less, then you have to make sure that everything, and I mean everything, you give to the gaming community has to be the best. That being said though, RiME is a gaming masterpiece that should be experienced, even with the hiccups I speak of. Creative puzzles, beautiful environments, spellbinding soundscapes, and at $29.99, Rime is right now one of the games to beat in 2017.

Suggestions: Improve framerate and loading time issues.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Portal Knights

Imagine. if you would, if Minecraft, Lego, and Diablo all went out one night, got obliterated at a bar, and had a wild hotel night. Nine months later you would have Portal Knights by 505 games. Originally out via Steam, lucky console owners finally get to enjoy the game at a price point of $19.99 + tax. Now, you're probably wondering how in God's name all of this ties together, and I think you're going to be pleasantly surprised. The question you should be asking though is: "Is Portal Knights a 3D sandbox RPG environment that will see unknown amounts of hours pass as they blur into days; or is it another clone of Minecraft trying to give you something similar but yet in the end, is still just a knockoff?"

505 Games have released some incredibly fun games in the past such as Rocket League, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Terraria to name a few, and now they have set their sights on delivering a quality 3D sandbox RPG game. Portal Knights tells an extremely loose tale of an evil that has divided numerous realms of varying characteristics and it is up to you to right the wrongs and vanquish the evil responsible.

Ok, now that the dramatic plot pitch is out of the way, that's about all you're going to have to go on when you play, so if you dive into this thinking you're going to experience some grand, meaningful adventure, you're going to be mistaken. If you go into this thinking you're going to play Lego characters set in multiple Minecraft styled realms, then you're going to be incredibly happy.

I reference Lego because as you start out you get to customize your character which looks like a hybrid Lego character with an oversized Lego styled head. Your character choices range from a Warrior (who specializes in melee attacks and has high strength), an Archer (a class who uses ranged weapons and bombs and focuses on dexterity), or a Mage (who is your magic wielder of the trio). Choose wisely because once you select your character the other options are locked out, including various items and weapons.

Once you've chosen your character it's time to customize them. I was surprised at the amount of depth to the character creation as there were numerous presets to form literally billions of combinations (yes, I said billions). If you like to spend time customizing your character, you'll lose a lot of hours here. Once completed you will get a choice to play either online or offline. If you play online, you can share in the fun with 4 people online, or two people local co-op if you decide not to go solo.

When you think you're done making choices, think again, because after you pick online or offline you get to choose between small worlds or large ones. To put things into perspective, a small world is incredibly compact and should be experienced first to get a feel for what you're about to get into. All the realms you experience will be randomly generated; however, your first level will take you through a small tutorial about quests, controls, and menus. For example, pressing LT on an enemy will give your character an enemy lock-on feature which can be annoying at times because the camera system isn't the best. Pressing LT again will disengage it and allow you to move the camera and focus on what you want. After that brief tutorial though, you're on your own. You'll quickly learn how to construct portals which will take you to other realms, and while in the menu one of the tabs is your overall map of the realms so you can see what you have joined and what can be coming up soon. This is also where the Minecraft feel is going to hit you like a freight train.

You'll come across simple 1x1 blocks as far as the eye can see and decorated with varying textures, different block types, and other interactive environmental objects like trees, grasses, gems, etc. that you can mine to create various items, potions, weapons, and more. To do this you will need to build a crafting station which will introduce you into the Portal Knights' crafting menu which is remarkably similar to Minecraft. However, unlike Minecraft, the focus of Portal Knights is to complete various quests that come with every realm. You're going to collect a lot of items you don't need to use, so be ready to dump a lot of items you don't need. Building chests will help increase your storage, but you will be fast travelling back to the realm you built it in to keep things organized. This is the biggest fundamental difference with Portal Knights as combat is the primary focus.

Now, when you begin you'll spend a lot of time leveling up, so the game itself will feel more of a chore than anything. Earning XP while helping other characters you meet within the different areas help level up your character and in turn give you skill points to use on various stats. When you hit milestone levels you'll be able to select various abilities such as sword proficiency and increased rate of healing so long as you stand still for 5 seconds or more.

This building really adds a depth that we see in some of the bigger action RPG games, and goes a long way to giving Portal Knights the credit it deserves. As you progress, not only will your character level up and grow, but you'll come across elements for upgraded weaponry which you will need when you go up against the bosses. This could be considered the central focus of their own world and they will beat you like you owe them money. This is when you're going to realize that in order to respawn you need gold, so make sure you have plenty on hand. You're also going to want to make sure you complete quests to gain new recipes for stronger items and better gear.

In terms of Portal Knights' graphics, I am a huge fan of the randomness as it takes me back to the Diablo days where every run would be different and that is exactly what you get here. The randomness ensures that each level is unique and has its own atmosphere. The characters you encounter throughout will speak in a minion-like gibberish and the colors throughout are nice and bold and go well with the overall art style.

The soundtrack is nice; however, it is incredibly repetitious, so while I wish there was more depth in the soundtrack, when you start going to different levels, you can feel that this was not on par with the rest of the game content. Let me be very clear though, I'm not saying the music is bad, I just wish there were more of it. It's hard though with all the randomness of the levels, I mean how do you ever do music as unique as the levels themselves?

So, is Portal Knights worth $19.99 + tax? Without a doubt, yes. There have been games that cost more than 3 times this but provide less engaging content. If you have a group of people joining in, then the fun just gets magnified by a factor of 10. 505 Games has delivered a content packed, quality action RPG with Portal Knights. It is a game that you can spend hundreds of hours playing and still have just as much fun as when you first set off. Sure, the game has issues, but the issues it has don't come close to outweighing the amount of joy found in the overall package.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Prey

Set the way back machine to 2006 and you'll come across an Xbox 360 game called Prey. It took its audience on a wild, psychological roller coaster ride, but it's execution resulted in a mixed reaction from the community, and for the longest time we heard whispers of a new Prey game in the works. As you can imagine, being over a decade since its initial offering there were many changes that took place over the course of the years, until now. Many moons have passed since Bethesda stepped in and acquired Prey, and the studio they tasked to bring it back to life was none other than Arkane Studios (the creators of Dishonored). After a while you get the sense that there was a chance for something special, but unfortunately so of this expectation was lost to the cosmos.

In a typical setting that we have seen multiple times over (space), you play the role of Morgan Yu who's a scientist that specializes in the development of Neuromods. These are devices that literally pierce your eye to give you new and enhanced abilities. Yes, stick this multi-needled gun device up to your eye, and pull the trigger and you get powers. So that's a very dark way of upgrading your character... Bioshock at least had a tonic. All this research takes place on board an orbiting station called Talos I. You proceed throughout the rounds of a normal day when something happens and you're fully exposed to an almost venom like symbiote species called the Typhon. Your world goes to black and you then awaken to a strange voice guiding you, which you are told is actually you, but more specifically a program of you that you created in a different time to assist you should the need ever arise.

Kind of confusing? Prey does a great job deploying a psychological ground game that drives your actions throughout the entire game; however, instead of developing this into something deep, expansive and intellectually puzzling, Prey seems to blend itself into more of an action shooter game. Your main priority becomes exploring a few areas of Talos until you kill everything, search everything, and then move onto the next unlocked area, all the while killing everything you can find in between. This is a huge let down because even though there's an element of duality and sacrifice woven into the plot threads, there's not really a driving force to keep the narrative at the mentally twisted level it needs to be. While the plot is a good story, there was definitely a missed opportunity here. If I could ask Arkane Studios one question it would be: "Would you kindly write a sequel that really took our minds on a mentally psychotic ride?"

Earlier you heard me mention the inclusion of duality and that is the cornerstone of Prey's entire storyline. When the crux of the story opens up to you, Prey decides to force you to deal with a moral system of choices. These choices determine what kind of person your character will become, but sadly these aren't plentiful enough in the game to warrant any significant level of depth. In fact, the majority of the mission work you do will feel like a very mundane chore and when you see how Prey decides to take the pieces and put them together, you feel underwhelmed and that to me was incredibly disappointing. You have an opportunity to take an IP that is over 10 years old, and re-imagine it in a dark, twisted, Tim Burton style manor and yet you make it a Disney Halloween Special instead.

To help set the stage for this grand performance, Talos I is set to deliver on many levels. First, the environments themselves tend to be more uniformed and less unique (given that it's a space station after all), but there are breathtaking images to view all throughout the station's windows of various stars, moons and planets. On top of that, you'll witness firsthand how Talos I tries to put a futuristic twist on classic elegance. In Prey, Talos I is supposed to be a premier outpost and you'll see a lot of that when you venture throughout the various parts of the map. However, given all of that, at the end of the day you're still in an orbiting space station and everything is going to have a familiar, uniformed, presentation and that I feel is another blown opportunity.

Since this game bears similar, yet very strong characteristics of Bioshock, I've heard of Talos I being referenced to as the Space version of Rapture and I can see why. However, the atmosphere of Rapture played right in tune with the plot, but in Prey you feel that it's more of an afterthought, if that. Now, despite that setback, it has to be mentioned that the ambient and atmospheric sounds and soundtrack of Prey are incredible. Listening to them on my Klipsch home theater system, and through some new headphones I am reviewing, I fell in love with the small little intricate parts that came together. You get this feeling when conflict arises and the strings and horns crescendo up to a climatic peak. On the other side of the coin though, Prey would then lull you into comfort again only to strike when you weren't ready. This tactic works wonderfully a couple of times at most, but seems to be frequent throughout the game making things a bit predictable as you progress.

This progress also has to deal with the progress of your character, as you have worked on developing a way to enhance your abilities, hence the Neuromods. However, by studying the alien Typhon themselves you can gain access to alien enhanced abilities. Now you may be asking, "Can I become a hybrid alien human with extreme powers?" and the answer is "yes you can". But as we all know, everything has a price to pay. In this instance should you decide to upgrade your character, and include alien traits, human devices, such as turrets, will now start to see you as a threat and target you. Rest easy because you can hack them to make them not target you, but you have to get in close to do this. While we are on the topic of mods and enhancements, I cannot stress how important it is for you to plan your path of upgrades ahead of time. I say this because the cost to upgrade your skills to the 2nd and 3rd levels dramatically increases like my health insurance cost. Make sure you plan ahead because a 'Jack of All Traits' is a master of none.

Now to acquire these powers you will be required to scan your Typhon enemies with your Psychoscope. Scanning the enemies while in a scoped view will allow you to work towards unlocking Typhon abilities and powers. The two primary Typhon enemies you will come across are Mimics and Phantoms. Mimics are a small spider like symbiote that have one distinct characteristic that makes them a deadly adversary, and that is that Mimics can replicate any object. So, let's say you are in an office area for the first time and you look around and see nothing out of the ordinary. This is what Mimics want you to think because in reality you could be in a room with half a dozen of them and you would never know. In order to make the detection process simpler you will have to use the acquired Psychoscope to scan the area, but when you do that you're going to be burdened with a little bit of tunnel vision, but it's a small price to pay for scouting out something that can spring from any object and attack you rapidly and ferociously.

The second are the Phantoms and they are what you would regard as human Typhon experiments gone horribly wrong. These walking abominations are either evolved Mimics or members of the Talos I crew that have been turned. These Phantoms take an absolute beating and are hard to bring down as they move faster than Mimics and hit much, much harder. In fact, one of the best strategies is to use your GLOO gun to temporarily freeze an enemy and then unload on them with your wrench (I would suggest using a firearm, however, ammo isn't plentiful unless you want to spend the resources to make it), or better yet, let a friendly turret tear them to pieces while you keep them in suspended motion. I bring this to your attention because you're going to be hard pressed to keep your suit in a manageable state throughout all these fights so repair kits are few and far between.

Thankfully, to help you keep track and store everything you need, you can expand on your inventory system which works on a grid style storage layout where items take 1 square and weapons can take 2, 3 or more. I brought up the whole upgrading abilities a while back, and upgrading your storage is one of those abilities. Also, with the suit repair kits you'll find, you will come across weapon upgrade kits which work ok, except if you want to start bringing the noise to the enemies, you'll need to spend quite a lot of Neuromods. In regards to the space of your storage, always (and I can't stress this enough) pay attention for where there is a recycle station. Here is where you can dump your crumpled pieces of paper, banana skin peels, used cigars, etc. and turn them into resources that you need to make certain blueprint plans such as med kits, shotgun ammo, and so much more. You'll be doing a lot of backtracking throughout Prey, so I strongly suggest that as you pass through areas again that you pay a short visit to the recycle stations to help keep available space in your inventory.

Prey, despite all the faults and setbacks I have noted, is actually a quality game from start to finish. It has plenty of content that will keep you air locked in for hours on end, and given the faults, you'll be spending so much time exploring that you may not even regard them as faults at all. After 10 years the gaming world was ready for another Prey, and Arkane Studios was up for the challenge and they succeeded more than they failed. Prey does deliver a sound introduction to an IP that has seen a troubled development process, and yes even though there are some drawbacks, there is a tremendous foundation for an incredible future. Do I think Prey could be game of the year? No. Do I think Arkane Studios could make Prey into an amazing gaming series? Yes.

Suggestions: Please work on that story for the sequel.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom

Normally when people say to me "Kickstarter game", I admit I cringe a bit inside. When someone says "Kickstarter Indie action RPG game that will be coming to the Xbox One", I have my incredibly large salt shaker on standby. Developer Enigami set out to create such a game. This small developer took to the streets in an initial effort through Kickstarter to fund their game Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom. Priced at $29.99, this has me incredibly weary for multiple reasons. First, Enigami's goal was $100,000 and they managed to raise just shy of $140K. So, while not a tremendous overage, the big question remained was what type of game could Enigami come up with, with such incredibly limited funds. The answer to that shocked me completely.

If you're an action RPG fan that enjoys a lighthearted story that doesn't take itself too seriously then you could have one of the biggest sleeper titles you'll ever play on the Xbox platform. I know, that's a big statement, but this game literally blew me away, even with a few technical issues. Right from the title screen I was listening to the music and it started to captivate me. You get the sense that it will be a truly grand adventure, and it is.

The story is the heart and soul of this game, so the main plot is for you to discover; however, this game boasts such a depth of content that it could seem overwhelming at first, but after quite a learning curve you'll start to get the hang of things very quickly. Cutscenes and transitions are handled in a semi-cartoonish comic book style that gives the presentation a unique feel. But there's so much more.

The story is not laid out in a sequential order. Your choices and actions decide how the game unfolds and what side quests you may or may not receive. On top of that, you will have to build a relationship with your companions and if some do not like your choices, or how you handle a situation, you can bet that there will be a strain put upon that friendship as a result. This really makes the game feel like it tells you, the gamer's, own story and it is sensational. I even tried to see what happened when making other choices as I reloaded an older, separate save file to see what would happen.

This feature builds upon your character's dialogue responses. While cartoonish in nature, both in the actual dialogue and the input, there is a sophistication to this that is rarely found in gaming today. I was amazed by the depth and that is because Shiness provides an incredible wealth of content. Mixing physical and magical sources, outside of equipping your gear, you'll have different abilities/spells to master and each one does a variant of a certain type of elemental attack. As you progress you will unlock new abilities which will lead to newer abilities such as fighting combos, because that is pretty much the majority of what you do in the game, you fight.

The areas of the worlds are called Meteoras and you will find yourself traversing around these large expanses completing not only the main quest, but side quests as well. Each one of these levels, actually the entire game itself, is done up in a beautiful cel-shaded style that looks amazing. Every small detail is accentuated with a bright, crisp feeling that makes individuality among the characters and environment feel fresh. This graphical presentation is only made better by the incredible soundtrack that follows. Simplistic melodies and dynamic sounds help weave a sonic pattern of mastery that not only surprised me, but delivers an adventure soundtrack that would rival other action RPG games, and in some cases surpass them.

Make no mistake, while you're taking in the beauty of the world, don't just pay attention to the various enemies but also the wildlife. I mention this because the wildlife plays a major role in your game. By quietly trying to sneak up behind them, you can press the X button when prompted to steal an item from them which you can then use at various traders to sell, or even bargain with them, to produce new disciplines to master or spells to learn.

When you start out on your adventure you'll notice that when you encounter an enemy you can click the RS to target them and scan them for information. When you get within range (provided your enemy hasn't seen you) you can land a sneak attack, which at first is either a punch or a kick (X for punch, A for kick). Your Y button is used for parrying incoming attacks and spells and it will rapidly become your best friend. The parry move poses a challenge and that challenge is timing. Get the parry right and you will stop the enemy attack in its tracks, while stunning the them and allowing you to take no damage. It also frees you up to start your onslaught. Should you fail though and you're going to get crushed with damage. My strongest suggestion is to master parrying as soon as you possibly can. Get used to timing the attacks, because once you master that, blocking almost becomes irrelevant. The B button will block attacks; however, you will still incur some damage. Using B with the LS will cause you to roll in any direction and that technique should be mastered after parrying.

Fights occur in makeshift energy rings that change colors to indicate various elemental shifts that can be used. Blue = water, Green = earth, etc. These fights occur 1 versus 1 with any supporting fighters on the outside of the ring. Defeat an opponent and their supporting enemy will drop in. During the fight the LB will change between characters, however the input seems rather slow and cumbersome and doesn't happen all the time when you want it to. The same goes for the input when using healing items, or any items in the game really. If you want to use a healing blue apple for instance, pressing the LT brings up the menu and pressing up on the d-pad will allow your character to consume one and thus heal themselves.

The gameplay mechanics do have a very high learning curve, but outside of hunting down wildlife (there's an achievement to hunt down one of every type of creature in the game), you're going to be fighting and questing and doing quests where you have to fight (make sense?). So, get ready for a healthy dose of rinse and repeat, especially when you realize that enemies respawn after you've left an area for so long.

Beyond the 'input' issue I found, there are some other issues that ware worth mentioning, and one of them has haunted countless games for decades; that is the camera system. While you are in control of it, there are times when you're in a fight and the camera will swing wildly into a rock effectively making you blind to the fight at hand. While the camera system works wonderfully when you're exploring, unfortunately it doesn't work that well all the time. Another issue are the special Hyper attacks that seem to be relatively useless. These are the biggest gamble attacks and when they instruct you to use them wisely, you better do exactly that because if you should fail (which will happen a lot), you will be 100% exposed without a hope and a prayer of defending an attack. The thing is, it almost seems as though if the target is standing still and doing nothing, and your Hyper attack seems to do exactly the same thing, nothing.

Now in order to have supporting characters you'll need to form a party. As you progress through the game you'll find that your party grows, and once you reach three people the game will unlock its challenges. These are small in game modifiers that consist of challenges like "finish a fight in under a minute" or "get an S ranking in a fight", etc. Should you accomplish each challenge then you can snag yourself some rare loot, which is broken up into three different categories: technique, clothes, and magic. Each provide different bonuses and skills/abilities to learn. This is just more of the parts that equal the sum of the game and equate to an incredible gameplay experience, so as long as you remember to manage it, it is truly a masterpiece. It accomplishes so much more than what anyone previously thought possible.

Coming from a Kickstarter and only surpassing their goal by $40k when other games spend over 1,000x on production and fail spectacularly, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is a remarkable game. It could very well be a top contender for indie game of the year, and at a price point of only $30 it seems to really be a bargain and a half. Not only has this restored some of my dissolved faith in Kickstarter video games, but in indie games as well. It goes to show that you don't need to spend millions of dollars to make a great game as developer Enigami managed to do it with $140K. If you're a fan of action RPG's that look and sound incredible while offering a colossal amount of content, even though there are a few hiccups now and then, stop reading this and go start downloading Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom now.

Suggestions: Careful with the camera system. Make sure that all aspects of combat function properly, this includes making sure boss fights don't continue to spam attacks that can't be parried.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Sexy Brutale, The

With puzzle games having been around for generations, murder mysteries have been a solid foundation since the classic board game Clue. Trying to piece together a psychological puzzle full of traps, methodology, and that hint of psychosis. Recently, developer Tequila Works released The Sexy Brutale and priced it at 1/3 of a standard retail game ($19.99 USD). To support that hefty price tag for an indie game, The Sexy Brutale is like the Masquerade ball from Phantom with a dash of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Groundhog Day all rolled into one. So without further ado let us don our masks and dive right in.

Before we begin you should have a little foundation as to what makes this game what it is. You play the role of a guest at a mansion hosting s special event for a night. There is mask wearing, excessive gambling, high stakes gaming, and all other sorts of decadent entertainment. Every wish you could want, every desire fulfilled, but not all is right.

There is a catastrophe and you are saved by a red colored lava woman with glasses (yes, I said that right). You then find out that there are other guests who need saving, and not only will you have to be their saviour, but you will also have to figure out who or what is behind all the murder and mayhem within the mansion. Now, normally this would require you to search for clues, and in order to do that you'll have to manage the puzzle genre's most recent manipulative trait, time.

Puzzle games have tried to become complex to the point of mind numbing agony, that is until an innovation from years ago comes waltzing into the party, and that is time manipulation. In this game you will have to navigate throughout the mansion and use time manipulation to save the rest of the party guests by getting them to remove their masks. Such an example would be found right from the start where you have to search the nearby rooms for a blank bullet to load into a gun which is going to be used at a certain time to kill a patron of the party. Once you save a fellow guest you claim their mask, and with it a new power that will aid you in the subsequent future by granting you some new abilities which you will need to save the other guests.

Now, the reason I mention time is that you will find yourself rewinding many, and I mean many times. This sort of repetitive action can become incredibly mundane, but that isn't the only problem. See when you develop a game that doesn't have much in terms of developmental content, you really have to make sure that the content you do provide is sound and solid and that isn't the case here.

I cannot begin to tell you how frustrated I got with such a simple act as opening a door. First off the input is incredibly laggy, so there were times when I would stand in front of said door, press the A button multiple times and after the 4th or 5th time, the door would finally open. This is a huge setback for The Sexy Brutale given that gameplay issues like this are something you'll be contending with throughout the game.

That's not to say though that this game doesn't have some very bright points. First, the plot is fantastic in a dark humorous way. The graphics and sound help deliver a very Tim Burton feel to the execution by tying it into more of a 1920's presentation. The lighting effects are very well done and the character models seem to fit the nuances of The Sexy Brutale.

Normally in a puzzle game when you get something wrong it's game over; however, thanks to the manipulation of time, should your guest expire, just rewind time and try a different path. This is what really got to me because it became less of a puzzle game and more of an explore rooms, reset clock, explore scenes that can be activated, reset clock, and so on, and in doing so without negative impact on you or your settings. You literally can be like Cher and turn back time as much as you want which made solving the puzzles less academic and more trial and error.

Now when I say you'll be exploring I hope you're ready to wander a lot because this multi-level mansion is enormous and filled with numerous rooms and people that will try to attack you should they spot you. What I did enjoy in this area was how there were unique qualities of certain rooms that gave them their own personal feel.

After my stint in the mansion I can say, without hesitation, that Tequila Works has developed a classy indie game that is full of sophistication, charm, witty plot lines and a dark side that would make Edgar Allen Poe happy. While the drawbacks cause the game to suffer somewhat, the overall experience will bring a smile to your face. If you're a fan of puzzle games The Sexy Brutale should be on your radar.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 SkyKeepers

It goes without saying that 2D platforming games have been around for decades. Giving your character a pathway where you jump and attack has always been a staple characteristic that has relied upon a story to deliver the symbiotic punch of entertainment. Recently, Sword Twin Studios released such a game called SkyKeepers on the Xbox One that is priced at $14.99. While on the average price range for an indie game, SkyKeepers tries to deliver a platforming experience that mixes parts of an ancient culture with an action packed story. Time to answer the all-important question: "Is SkyKeepers worth $14.99 + tax?"

I mentioned SkyKeepers delivers on an ancient culture, and it does. Starting as far back as thousands of years BC, the Austronesian tribal peoples developed centuries of art and culture, and by 400 AD they had started to call the islands of Hawaii home. This culture carried with it a mark of honor and respect and it's called the tatau. These magnificent works of art were worn on the body as signs of courage; however, the pain endured would be excruciating and when a tatau could take, in some instances, years to complete, this badge of honor was truly earned. Failure to finish the tatau process marked an individual with shame.

These sacred traditions are honored in the very beginning of SkyKeepers as the game opens up with the chief of the village Tangi going off on a hunt. His son wants to prove to his father that he is ready to become a man and receive his tatau. From this point on you control the son and SkyKeepers will take you on a simplistic walkthrough so you can get used to the controls.

During this 'introduction' you stumble upon your father Tangi who instructs you to run home. As you defy him, as all young kids do to their parents, he decides to put you through a test to determine if you are ready. Once the test is completed you'll head back to the village where you will tell the tattooist that you're ready. In order to get the ink needed you'll first need to harvest the leaves and the wood needed to acutally complete the tatau. Once all is done, a tragic experience occurs and the game instantly changes 180 degrees. It is here that the village falls into ruin and the story picks up years after that one fateful moment.

I'm deliberately omitting a section you'll experience in the beginning because if you do decide to spend the money to buy this game I don't want to ruin the any more of the plot for you. Ultimately, SkyKeepers boils down to chief Tangi coming to terms with what has happened and doing whatever he can to save his village, and if possible, himself as well.

You'll complete these tasks by venturing through different realms found in the game, and each realm has, within itself, multiple stages. Each stage is setup in your traditional block style mini map where white squares indicate pathways to other rooms. It is nothing innovative as we have seen elements of this structure type dating as far back as Metroid, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work wonderfully. While overly generic in terms of the structure of the levels themselves, each one is efficiently designed to provide a good challenge, and that is where I find some fault in the game.

Let's say you head out, like I did many, many times, and go through a level. In certain areas along the way you will find torches that you can light that act as checkpoints. Should you die before igniting one you will have to start over from the beginning. Now that normally would upset a lot of us, but thankfully the progress you make does save, sort of, and you can easily make your way back to where you originally expired. Should you not finish the level AFTER you hit a checkpoint, and do something like turn off the game or console, then you will have to start over from the beginning of the level with no progress saved at all.

As you progress through the levels you'll find that the gameplay mechanics are incredibly simplistic. The A button jumps, your X button attacks, and your Y button does a powered move that uses a meter that gets filled when you strike with the X button. Your B button does what is called a SkyWalk, which is a teleport shift of your character to certain access points on a level or even enemies themselves after you've hit your enemies with your X or Y attack. This incredibly generic gameplay works wonders for this style of platforming, because if you start to complicate and over think the gameplay mechanics then you will make it harder for your audience to enjoy the experience.

You will find that the combat element of the game resorts to a simplistic method of beat up enemies with the X button until you have enough for a special move with the Y button. Execute your special move and combine with the B button and you can dodge any type of incoming attack. Then it is rinse and repeat over and over again. The only issue I have here is that the combat gets ridiculously repetitive and instead of allowing you to move quickly from one area to another, the game essentially traps you into a room until you beat all the opponents, and then you can move on.

As you traverse the levels you'll acquire purple light orbs and shards, and it is by using these that you will rebuild the fallen village. It will take a lot of progress, but over time you'll be able to unlock new items and more. In order to do that though get ready for a titanic amount of hacking, slashing, and split second jumps that either mean heroic bravery or complete and total failure as a coward.

Given the simplicity, there really isn't much in the way of something that will really draw the audience into an experience that can sum up the whole game. Sadly, this also goes for the soundtrack which appears to just be a drum loop that you hear nonstop and it rarely ever changes. It got to the point where I just turned the volume down because I couldn't stand it anymore. I did however find the graphics to be very nice and a definite strong point to the game itself. I found that even though the concept never changed in terms of level design, each level and stage had its own unique feel.

So $14.99 buys you a game that has some issues in the areas of level design, soundtrack, repetitive combat, and an oversimplified gameplay system. But should you buy it? Absolutely and without question. If you enjoy a quality platformer then you will most-likely enjoy SkyKeepers. The frantic combat keeps you on the edge while the jumps and the gameplay will truly test you. While on the surface SkyKeepers may seem like a generic platformer, but Sword Twin Studios took the basic elements of great 2D platformers and adapted them to fit their narrative. So, while SkyKeepers may not be innovative, ground breaking or flawless, it's definitely a high quality 2D platformer for you to enjoy.

Overall Score: 7.3 / 10 Styx: Shards of Darkness

If you fancy a test of your nerves and creativity, then stealth games are a true test of your mettle. Such games rarely let you take a breath before you're thrown right into the next section of danger, all the while setting your nerves on edge with suspense. Recently, developer Cyanide released another entry to the popular smart mouthed, stealth series starring a Goblin named Styx, and this game is aptly titled Styx: Shards of Darkness. Now there are a bunch of boxes that need to be checked in order to claim that you have a quality stealth game on your hands, and the big question is does developer Cyanide tick all the right boxes?

If you have never played a Styx game before you're in for a treat. Well that is if you like a stealth game that doesn't take itself too seriously in the plot development or execution. Styx, for those who may not have heard, is an assassin/thief Goblin who seems to have a substance abuse problem for a potion drink called Amber.

Styx is contracted out through various missions, and mission types, where there are not only multiple pathways to complete each mission, but multiple options as to how you can eliminate your adversaries. This type of direction already lends itself to creating a smooth stealth experience, but then you take into account the "attitude" of Styx and you have a real memorable character. Even when you die, and you will a lot, Styx has some form of derogatory quip about you, or he may mock a scene from an iconic movie. Either way this type of humor is felt throughout the entire game and helps provide some levity even when under tremendous pressure.

Pressure is what you'll encounter throughout the entire game. The backstory is that Styx has decided to take up residency in a town called Thoben. It's here that the human residents are engaged in an active conflict called "The Green Plague", which ultimately is a battle between humans and goblins trying to cohabitate with one another leading to many failed outcomes. This won't stop you from pillaging various homes and buildings and relieving those righteous humans of the very valuables they so cherish, including their lives. Remember though, should you take the life of someone else, you must be a crafty goblin and hide the body before they are discovered and your cover is officially blown. Now, there is a twist towards the end of the first level and after that you feel like a powder keg has been lit and every level you complete gets you one inch closer to the big boom at the end.

As mentioned earlier, Styx: Shards of Darkness provides multiple 3D platforming levels for which you can chose multiple directions to reach your objective. Now, the one key thing you absolutely must have in a game like this is proper gameplay mechanics. Since stealth games pride themselves on giving you scenarios that require precise timing and judgement, this reason alone is why it's so important.

Sadly, I didn't find that Styx's gameplay was that on point or precise in this area. Granted there wasn't much in terms of hand holding as the game itself unfolds before you as you're thrust into a level right away. There were also some issues with the cover system, and transitioning out of it, that were a little disorienting, and when executing something simple such as swinging on a rope, I found that the mechanics involving this action felt unpolished.

Other little quirks that felt unpolished were the combat system should you be discovered. Pressing the X button when you're sneaking up on an enemy allows you to do a quick kill, however it won't be silent. To make it silent, instead of pressing the X button you have to HOLD the X button down. Now, should you go for the quiet kill, you'll notice that the animation sequence lasts for a few seconds to make sure that if you decide to engage in a silent kill there aren't any other enemies nearby that could be on patrol and see you as you're going through this motion (which for some reason still generates noise, but apparently not noises your enemies can hear?). If you're caught you're going to either have to run away and hide or face your opponents in combat. You'll have to time your X button to parry the enemies' attack or you can expect to be cut down in no time.

To counter this reality, you're given options as to how to eliminate your opponents. Instead of taking on a group head on, why not push an explosive barrel off a ledge above or cut a chandelier's chain and watch it drop on them. Better yet, if you have a bunch of enemies eating at a table, why not try poisoning their food? This creativity allows Styx: Shards of Darkness to be played a multiple of different ways and gives variety which helps keep the game feeling fresh as you look for new ways to eviscerate your targets. While I did appreciate the ability to either kill someone outright using my blade or use a different creative outlet, these are just a couple of examples of what you can expect.

Even though the gameplay might be imperfect, there is still a lot going for Styx: Shards of Darkness. One of the biggest improvements you will see resides within the new skill trees that you can upgrade. Branches such as Stealth, Kill, Perception, Cloning and Alchemy will give Styx a much needed advantage over his adversaries. There's many reasons to love this new skill tree setup.

First, you're not set in any sort of direct linear path so you can cake different paths should you choose to do so. Second, you can see how the development really improves from the previous game. Take for instance your clone. Styx used to be able to create a clone that was solely used as a distraction. Now, Styx can manipulate the clone to cause havoc, or even leave it as a quick warp point should you find yourself in danger and need a rapid exit. This type of development and improvement is a welcomed addition to the game and goes a long way to creating a more enjoyable gaming experience.

You'll be happy to know that the graphics of Styx Shards of Darkness are finely detailed and look very nice, adding to experience when playing. Now granted the environments seem a little "cookie cutter" but they lend themselves to the fantasy time period and that goes for all the characters themselves. While you're traversing you'll also notice things like Styx's dagger sheathe glowing to give you a visual indication that you're hidden. It's this environment that will have you praising your Right Stick, as clicking it will give you an overview of your immediate surroundings as it highlights what is friend, foe, interactive items, and collectibles.

To help solidify the atmosphere of the game, you're given what I'd like to call a brooding soundtrack. This isn't some high energy retro synth onslaught, but a very melancholic sweeping soundscape that ties everything together in a tremendous package.

Styx: Shards of Darkness offers more improvements upon it's original than most other sequels you'll find in gaming today. This is due to the painstaking process of finding out what needed improving, how to improve it, then executing it properly. If you are a fan of games that thrive on creativity and stealth, then Styx: Shards of Darkness should be on your gaming radar. While there are a few issues that plague the game, the overall gaming experience is one of quality and craftsmanship. Earlier I asked if developer Cyanide ticked all the boxes that make up a quality stealth title, and the answer to that is yes.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Verdun

When you want to make a game it helps if there are things that you can turn to for inspiration, guidance and even some assistance from time to time. Now, take the FPS genre in a World War I setting and you have such a gargantuan amount of material to draw from, so much so that you would think that you would use this to help make one incredibly enjoyable and authentic game. You could think that in this case, but you would be wrong. Verdun, developed by M2H & BlackMill Games, is priced at $19.99 + tax, and this game tries to place you into the trench warfare found in WWI during the battle of Verdun. Now $20 is an incredibly high price point to ask, so the big question that has to be answered is, is it worth it?

Unfortunately not. Normally I would save my opinions until the very end and layout a general overview that highlights the good and the bad points of the title, leaving you with my final opinions to base your own judgement upon. Not this time. No, this time I'm giving you the truth right up front because sadly this is going to become like war very quickly, and remember, war is hell. So, with that out of the way let me essentially point out the pitfalls that made this game have potential, but then ultimately leaves you feeling like you have just been virtually robbed blind.

For starters, the whole "training tutorial" is comprised of several slides depicting some very vague information. They pretty much cover the basis of trench warfare along with your "classes" and their progression system, but you will quickly see that this means absolutely nothing at all. They don't tell you much in terms of controlling your character, so I suggest you look at your options before jumping into the gameplay.

Each game is like a massive war fought over and over again. There are multiple squads of 4 with open slots, and you can only select your character by which empty slot available. You can be an NCO, rifleman, machine gunner or grenadier. If in a squad, rifleman, machine gunner and grenadier are all taken, you can only spawn in that squad as an NCO, so if you wanted to be something else then you're forced to pick a different squad. If no position you want is available, you're S.O.L. For this example of my nightmare I chose NCO. Now, there are two modes you can play, Online or Offline. I just jumped right into multiplayer to see what's what.

Right from the beginning I found that the graphics are something I would expect from the original Xbox system, laughably poor at best. The character modeling is elementary quality and the atmosphere and environment almost makes you wish they robbed other quality FPS games because you're starting to feel like the one whose money was stolen from. I can honestly say that there are no redeeming qualities in the graphics department what so ever.

The only highlight I found in any of the presentation is the military song that plays in the beginning of each level, yet that's because the sounds of Verdun are just as horrendous as the graphics. The weaponry sounds are unrealistic and the voice of the NCO signaling a charge made me cringe every time. This is what I experienced as soon as I jumped into my game so I thought, why don't I try going through my options and switch weapons, which was a mistake because as soon as I hit Y to switch weapons (which were my binoculars), I get shot and killed and was forced wait 30 seconds to spawn in again. 30 SECONDS.

I waited my lengthy 30 seconds and respawned in only to see on my screen an icon that looks like an upside down pyramid and it says "MOVE HERE", so I follow instructions and work my way to that point. On my way there I get a pop up message with a countdown clock that says "Get back in 'X' seconds or you will be killed for treason." At first I didn't listen to it and managed to get to the point that the game said to go to, the countdown clock wound down to 0 and I was instantly killed for treason.

Yes, I went and followed what the game told me to do and got killed. SO I WAIT ANOTHER 30 ****ING SECONDS ON RESPAWN. Sigh. OK, so I wait my 30 seconds while pondering the meaning of the existence of this game and I come to the conclusion that the warning message > in game move message. This brought my attention though to the mini map on the bottom left hand side.

Here you can see the dividing line that your soldiers fight over. If you can manage to hold the line, your team will advance, but they will also face tough opposition to take the next line, thus creating an ever shifting balance, and should, god forbid, you have an overwhelming force, you will be rewarded with penalties. Yes, the game will actually penalize you if you are on a team with more people than the other; more concerned with being fair than realistic. Do you think in real life that a squad of 10,000 troops would say "Oh we are only up against 1,000 enemy soldiers? Well then we should just kill off about 7,000 of our men and make it more of a fair fight." No, you would never hear of that because that notion beyond the comprehension of anyone with an IQ of 2, but that's what you have here.

So, now I'm back in the game and I switched out to my binoculars, which apparently fixate at only a specified range, and I can bring up an action menu with my Right Bumper that offers me two choices: move or artillery strike. I also see a small red icon that moves with my point of view and depending on the triggers pushed, will signal either a strike or a move order. The strike proved to be my most useful killing tool as just after I launched it I ended up getting killed (your field of view is dramatically narrowed to next to nothing in binocular view).

Again, I wait in the respawn of hell. Now I'm an even 3 kills and 3 deaths. I respawn again and proceed to try and kill someone with my pistol. I see an enemy soldier approaching and I decide to flank from his right side. I approach within feet from behind him, press the Left Trigger to bring up the sights and click the Left Stick to hold my breath. I say a prayer, pull the trigger, and hit absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. I unloaded 10 rounds and didn't kill the enemy at all. I didn't even see if any of my rounds hit him. The enemy turns around, fires once, kills me and I'M OFF TO RESPAWN AGAIN! Now my total k/d ratio stands at 3-4.

I respawn again and within 4 seconds I take another bullet to the knee and I have to respawn again. Mercifully the game ended so I decided to take my meager amount of xp earned and try to find other matches, but thanks to some incredibly bad server issues, I found myself being forced back into the same hellish nightmare I just escaped from. I forced myself for whatever sadistic reason, to continue playing the game and hopefully find some form entertainment or enjoyment that would allow me to at least see a very vague reason why someone would, in the name of all that is holy, charge $20 for it. I searched beyond the center of the universe for this answer and found nothing. That's when I thought I would cut my losses and try the offline mode.

This mode was just as frustrating. Are you kidding me? The AI team looked like they were sleeping during bootcamp in terms of military tactics. I saw one character literally run into a wall non-stop, then an enemy came over the wall in front of an AI soldier, and my soldier who was running into the wall did nothing. Not one thing. Then the enemy AI shot him once and killed him. That's when I started to think more about this and what it represents, and I got upset. I'm sorry, but this has to be insulting to the men and women, or their family members, that actually took part in WWI, or in any military engagement.

To see such a pathetic attempt to try and deliver an experience that honors the people who fought and died during that war and charge 1/3 the price of a full retail game is almost theft in my opinion, and the developers of this game need to be ashamed of themselves for such a disappointment.

I feel that after this tremendous disappointment, everyone who purchased this game deserves a refund. Men and women gave their lives in one of mankind's most pivotal moments in history and this crap is how these developers pay homage? And they charge $20 for it? The graphics are poor, the sound is unrealistic, the networking is pitiful, the controls are pathetic and yet you are asked to pay for this experience. Do yourself a favor, VerDON'T buy this game.

Overall Score: 3.0 / 10 WRC 6

For many of us, we use cars as tools in our lives. From making our daily commute to work, to running errands, we as humans spend an overwhelming amount of time in our cars. For the vast majority of drivers however, that's about as far as most of us take our relationship with cars. We see them as a tool and nothing more, however, what we may be unaware of is the amount of history and influence that the World Rally Championship has brought us. It's this level of importance and excitement that Kylotonn has tried to infuse into their latest entry into the world of Rally racing with WRC 6. So let's start our engine and see if we can make it to the end in one piece.

For those that may not have played their rally games, Kylotonn is on a quest to deliver the premier Rally experience. For those who may not know what the World Rally Championship is, imagine taking a car like a Ford Focus, give it a turbocharged 300bhp power core, studded tires, a human GPS passenger and tell it to drive along this gravel pathway along the side of a mountain while reaching speeds of over 100mph, and do not crash. That's the type of racing you can expect from just one location though, and the beautiful thing about the WRC is that it travels all over the world, from dodging wild animals that may be crossing the road in Africa, to dodging solid snow drifts over 7 foot high in some of the Scandinavia rallies, everything is included.

Now each of these races is set up in stages and your primary goal is literally get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time. That time is then added to your time in the next stage and that total is added to the next race after that and so on. At the end of all the stages, the driver with the lowest time wins the Rally. So your primary goal is to beat the clock, and while that may sound simplistic, once you get to try and drive your car, you'll be rapidly singing a different tune. These cars almost glide over the ground in the hand of a master. While focusing on controlled slides, sweeping drifts, and tight hairpins, the car itself almost seems to be in a state of suspended animation, however like everything in life, when you start out you're going to be incredibly horrible. This is because the play control for WRC 6 is almost its very own hybrid style.

WRC 6 is not an arcade racer by any sense of the word, yet it's not a simulation either, so what we're left with is a game that is having a bit of an identity crisis. This saddens me because you can tell that Kylotonn has gone to great lengths just to deliver on the promises to take the feedback from the previous game to heart and come back with a release that should be the WRC experience we all wanted to have. One of the biggest gripes has to be the penalty system. See, when you go to view NASCAR as a fan you're partying it up under protection, however in World Rally Championship you're literally open and exposed and can get so close to vehicles you could high five the driver as they passed by. This type of experience is exhilarating to say the least, but this excitement also comes with danger as several spectators have been killed. Now how do you think a game like WRC 6 addresses your car, going 80mph into a crowd all because you forgot to slow down and apply your handbrake to make the corner?

They give you a 12 second time penalty. Yes, everything you do in the game that could result in you off the track for any reason will get you a penalty. Go slightly off the track and hold the X button to reset the car and it's a 2 second penalty. Should you go way off, the game will automatically reset your car and you will receive a penalty of 8-10 seconds. The only realistic penalty they offer is a 30 second one for puncturing a tire. This punishment delivery system will mean that you will be restarting races many, many times over, or settle for a 7-minute stage time. You'll find this out rapidly because WRC 6 throws you way into the deep end after it asks you the small questionnaire by putting you right into a rally stage, enabling you to figure out how the cars handle and how you should really think about handling the course. Before you go though you can watch as the person in front of you takes off which allows you to see what the course is like, but with over 3 minutes of viewing the ability to memorize every turn, dip, and obstacle is almost impossible. Despite this, I cannot stress enough, you will want to watch the car because of another gripe I have, your co-driver.

Driving in WRC has a driver, but also a co-driver whom reads out directions to you as you're thundering down the path at 70mph. These directions not only tell you what gear to be in, speed to take, but also what position and line to drive and so on. If you're new to Rally then the language will seem like some form of alien code. You'll hear things like "over crest, 3 tight left, don't cut into 4 narrows, caution rocks, into 5 tight right..." and again, all while you're flying down the track at 70mph. Now while this ticker of information comes flying at you along with all the rocks and trees and everything else, you'll find times where your co-driver says absolutely nothing for a few moments. It's like he suffers from a bout of sudden narcolepsy, so while you're trying to figure out how to drive the course, you almost have to use the Force when your co-driver decides to be quiet.

Now all of this you will experience before you get done with your first introduction to WRC 6. I strongly, and I mean borderline forceful, suggest you drive that introduction rally till you become one with the car and learn how the car handles and how you must approach the courses. After that education session, it's time to open up into the game of WRC 6. You'll have options to go into your main solo campaign, multiplayer, and some time attack challenges. In the solo campaign you'll find over 60 Rally stages that cover every combination of weather, visibility and type of terrain. As a special treat, WRC 6 also sports 11 Super Special Stages which Kylotonn claims to be a laser mapped 1-1 scale replicas. And you know what? They're right. I was stunned at this so I looked up the stages to verify, and my jaw hit the floor. As you progress you'll naturally be moving up in class and in cars which is good because not only do each of them handle and perform differently, they all look quite stunning as well.

This is because the graphics of WRC 6 really have moments where they shine. It's great to have an officially licensed FIA WRC game, so now you get all the real drivers which helps deliver an added punch of realism, and speaking of adding realism, the visual effects such as dust, fog, night time headlights, combined with physical damage to your actual car to encapsulate the entire visual package into one amazing experience. This is supported by the sounds of WRC 6 as well. You'll hear your exhaust "pop" during shifting, the rev of the engine, the tires straining to hold onto every inch of grip possible and even the gravel stones kicking up under your car ring true and through your speakers to help construct a violent, yet realistic sonic journey.

All this amazing Rally experience carries over into multiplayer and all the other race gametypes, including split screen, but you will notice some degrading graphics due to the halved screen size. Now sadly I cannot comment on any external wheel and pedal control system integration so I was unable to accurately test such feedback. I will say though when the dust settles, WRC 6 strives hard to dethrone another Rally game, and even though the effort is valiant, the issues that exist, especially pertaining to the gameplay, prevent it from overtaking it. However, if we see another improvement leap like what we have seen between WRC 5 and 6, I think we can start to see Kylotonn start knocking on the door of such companies such as Turn 10. If you're looking for a solid Rally racing experience, you can't do much better than WRC 6.

Suggestions: Tighten up the control system. Would love to see official WRC stages throughout the entire game.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands

For the longest time the Tom Clancy Ghost Recon series of games have been a source of both incredible enjoyment and tremendous frustration. This has always been part of the experience and while the more recent releases have shown an attempt to get things right, it always felt like something was missing. So, with Ghost Recon Wildlands, the latest game in the series, have Ubisoft finally worked out the finer details of how to improve upon this series, or have they published a game that would have Tom Clancy himself say it's fubar? Even with a few hiccups I think you may be quite surprised.

If you have never played a Ghost Recon game before you should know that your character is in charge of an elite squad of some of the top military soldiers that the U.S. has to offer. You are outfitted with advanced technology and weaponry and whisked away too distant, real world settings, where there are always numerous quests too complete and tons of enemies to kill. Upon saving the world you usually find yourself with little left to do, except play multiplayer, which can become tiresome as it doesn't hold the grasp of a gamer like other FPS or 3rd person shooters. This however, isn't the case anymore. Thanks to games like The Division, Ubisoft has really grown in leaps and bounds in terms of sandbox development and now they have directly applied what they've learned to the Ghost Recon series, and that's only one reason why you should be very, very excited.

Ghost Recon Wildlands puts you in the country of Bolivia. It has become overrun with corruption by a drug cartel. This cartel has its hands in every aspect and facet of Bolivia's operations, from bribing politicians, military, police and more, to silencing through intimidation and death, anyone who may raise a voice in opposition. While the revolution against the cartels has almost been suffocated, there is still hope that one day the fighters of the revolution will be able to stand against the military might of the cartel, but what they don't know is that one day soon their prayers will be answered. This hope is what keeps the country's citizens going while they have become enslaved as the cartel exploits them to produce the new main cash crop, cocaine. With a USA asset so deep undercover that he became the 2nd in command, his execution at the hands of the cartel raises questions and pisses off the U.S. government. This loss triggers the Ghost Recon team to drop in with a couple of goals in mind:

1. To empower and free the civilians from the control of the cartel.

2. Totally destroy the cartel and its network of affiliates.

The premise for the game is one that we have seen before in other games; however, the execution is what makes this game unique. For starters, when you first start your single player experience, if you press what I'm calling the back button, you can bring up a menu system where you can toggle between map, skill point assignment, loadout, and more. If you go to your map and press the LT to zoom out you will get a sense of just how big the game environment truly is. The map is divided up into sections (provinces) and each section has a series of missions and a number of collectibles to obtain to fully complete it.

While the map may be divided into sections, in this game you can go where ever you want right from the beginning. When I started out I spent about 8 hours alone exploring and just having fun with side missions and quests before I started off with the main story quest. The freedom to play how you want is incredible, but before you go bounding through the woods and fields and over the mountain tops, you should be aware of your factions.

There are three factions in Ghost Recon Wildlands, the Revolutionaries, the Cartel, and Unidad. While the first two are self-explanatory, the Unidad are considered to be military and will hunt you with extreme weaponry and ferocity. They will also attack Cartel members should any start shooting, so when you have a mix of both Unidad and Cartel fighters sometimes picking a fight between the two can produce some incredible, outpost clearing, fun. Now, similar to the police in Grand Theft Auto, the more Unidad soldiers you kill, the higher the Unidad patrol rating climbs which brings out other Unidad toys such as helicopters and military vehicles for you worry about. By the time the patrol rating is maxed you will be under such insurmountable onslaught that you may find it best to just run for your life. So while you're off killing Cartel members and rescuing more Revolutionaries, always keep a look out for Unidad, and if you have to engage, do it quietly so as to remain hidden. This can be accomplished thanks to your gear, or more importantly your drone and teammates.

I can't not stress enough how important your drone and team are to your existence. I suggest you hit the start menu and go to the tutorial option where you will learn about pressing up on the D-pad to engage your drone and down on the D-pad to engage your binoculars, etc. Earlier you read that I mentioned a menu where you can allocate skill points, and in that menu you can upgrade many elements from your drone, your squad, your own person, your weapon, and more. In order to accomplish this, you have to first collect the needed number of skill points which you can find at various outpost and enemy stations, as well as when you level your character up. Once you have the necessary skill points, you have to focus on your resources.

The revolution needs resources in order to fuel and fund their operation against the Cartel, so it's up to you to secure the resources. These range from fuel, food, medical supplies, and even communication resources, and all of them are vital to leveling up your character. Don't worry, if you should fail a mission another chance will respawn after you leave the area. Now when you have collected enough resources and have enough skill points you can upgrade the various elements which increase in value as you climb through the ranks and along the skill tree. Starting out I worked to focus on increasing my drone's battery, range and night vision. Then I focused on gaining the max number of Sync Shot options which gave me the ability to take out up to 4 enemies at once (3 if you don't shoot at one yourself). Let me explain to you why that made my life so much easier.

For starters I have to point out that your team AI isn't the best in the world, in fact it borderlines on silly at times, except for the Sync Shot. You scout an area for enemy targets, then after you have marked them automatically via your drone or binoculars, or even by weapon zoom, you can then designate up to 3 targets (4 is you shoot one) that you can have your 3 stooges eliminate. Once all the targets you selected have been lined up, just hold the A button down and like the London Bridge they all fall down. This can make overtaking any compound, even a Unidad one, much easier, so long as you use patience and tactical recon to see where the "stragglers" are that can be picked off. Normally this consists of sniper towers first, and then other random enemies that are away from others. However, all this prep can be helped if you just take the compound at night when people are sleeping. Then you can just walk up to one, grab them right out of their bed and knock out them out, and you won't wake a soul. Remember, when taking a compound, or any other enemy installation, silence is golden.

To do all of this however, you have to get used to the play controls, which can be a bit touchy to get used to. The LS and RS control your movement and direction of sight, and because the game is so open you won't have many issues with trying to position the camera into a good vantage point. Swapping weapons with the Y button is easy, and double tapping the Y button will switch out to your pistol. I did find a few issues with the play control such as times when the movement does feel clunky instead of fluid or when you go to hold the X button to tag resources you find in the field; you HAVE to be facing one part of the resources in order for you to successfully tag them. You can't approach from the sides and expect to tag them and it's things like this latter annoyance that is one of several minor detail issues that detract from the game itself. We got a similar taste of these gameplay issues in the Division, and it seems like they continue to plague this game as well.

I do have to point out though that the game is visually beautiful. Sitting on top of a mountain while you overlook a village next to a body of water while the sun is setting is absolutely hypnotic. The varying terrain and its corresponding vegetation and foliage, and how you can interact with it, is amazing. For example, a hovering helicopter hovering above overgrown grass, or how the water reacts to a helicopter flying low, is remarkably life like. The effects are truly a spectacular sight, however, the music and soundtrack to this game leave a lot, and I mean a very lot to be desired. While the gun noises and other sound effects are done moderately well, there's no real soundtrack that leaves you wanting to hear more of it. In fact, wherever I go I end up shooting all the radios and turning off all radios in the vehicles because I just don't want to hear that noise. I did though turn on some Apocalypse Now tunes and piloted my boat during the sunset and that moment felt absolutely amazing, and not one bit of audio came from the game. That's very disappointing.

There are a few more issues that need to be touched upon and one of those is your AI. Earlier you read that I thought your three squad teammates were like the 3 stooges at times and when you increase the difficulty you have hyper sensitive enemy AI, but your squad gains absolutely nothing in terms of performance increase. Plus, another thing that I never understood is how your squad mates, who have been in the service for years and are the tops in their field, find a challenge when taking on some tattooed cocaine thug wearing a tank top, sunglasses and an carrying an AK-47. These are targets that should naturally be dropped while at great distances, yet your team can literally walk right by them and nothing will happen, but if you peak your head right out of a clump of bushes it's like you set off some territory wide explosion that draws every enemy to your position at once. Other issues include minor bugs like your squad members not getting into vehicles you're controlling, or having them running around like they are looking into the sky, and while not game breaking they make the overall product seem unpolished at times. Nothing though, will prepare you for multiplayer.

Now, multiplayer is supposed to be the backbone of this game. You can jump in and out of any public game you wish, or you can have up to 3 friends together in a group. Now for the good news first. When you have 3 quality friends who work as a team and communicate, then you're truly getting the best that Ghost Recon Wildlands has to offer. Now for the bad news, that wonderful experience will happen very little of the time, especially if you're trying to play a public co-op session.

When you have other people in your squad their individual actions and outcomes will affect you as well. Let's say you want to infiltrate a base and go after some objective, and someone in your party decides to drive a car right in the middle of the base with horn blaring, well thanks to that guy you now have an entire armed base drawing guns immediately. On the plus side, another good point about the multiplayer aspect is how if you have a mission already completed and you join someone who is working on that mission, you will still earn XP and rewards from the mission, but your character progression will be halted until you move onto a mission you haven't done yet.

Another drawback of multiplayer is that you don't share resources. If you're in one building and your teammate finds resources in another building right next to you, then you have to go into that building just to collect the resources. This is an impact because you have to wait for everyone to make sure they get their medals or resources before you continue on, or you'll leave them behind. This is a natural drawback you will find when are trying to play a tactful, squad based shooter as there are more bad apples than good, so you'll naturally be playing more single player which then takes away the multiplayer experience.

Another drawback of the multiplayer experience is that if you have only one other teammate, then the other 2 squad members that you did have vanish. There is no AI to fill in any empty multiplayer slot, so unless you have 3 other friends to play with, you're going to have a depleted squad.

There are other glitches such as your multiplayer friends going invisible on your screen, or having car framerates slow and glitch to an almost complete stop, and all of these add up to bring about some blows to the body armor of Ghost Recon Wildlands. You have about as much of a chance to have a bug free multiplayer session as Stevie Wonder has of passing a vision test.

Another gripe I have is that there really isn't anything innovative about Ghost Recon Wildlands. You go through the different areas of the map and while you're uncovering it, you unlock various side quests and main missions within that area which help discover collectibles. Once I had uncovered the map section (my choice of transportation is helicopter), I would complete all the missions and gather the collectibles and then go on to the next section and repeat the same process. This can get tedious as there's no real difference in terms of missions, but if you think about it, there really isn't any other choice. It's a natural limitation that is found in such a narrow scope that it's impossible to break from. So essentially it's a type of game experience that naturally forces itself upon you.

I've deliberately left out micro-transactions discussion because outside of having an unnatural hatred for them, I think that if a company wants to include more content that can alter the gameplay to the consumer, then either include it upfront or in a DLC pass. But in the spirit of moving forward, after all that I can honestly say that Ghost Recon Wildlands is one incredibly enjoyable experience.

Despite the noted flaws and imperfections that permeate some facets of this game, I can easily see this title draining many months and moons from one's life, and you'll be smiling most of the way. If Ubisoft can improve on the quality that is Ghost Recon Wildlands, the future looks incredibly bright. That being said, our focus is on the current game, and overall it is one that can be very enjoyable, and if you find the right online players to play with, the game can be even better. Tom Clancy fans owe themselves the time to check this game out, as it is good enough to satisfy a gamer's craving for action, stealth, and a very large world to explore.

Suggestions: Polish the game's technical issues.
Improve some of the gameplay.

What is there is a great starting point and an addictive one, fixing the noted points can only make this a better game.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Ride 2

They say imitation is the best form of flattery, and if that is true then Ride 2 from Milestone S.r.l. has given some tremendous flattery. Ride 2 recently released on the Xbox One, and while the original had enough issues to give the game a flat tire, Ride 2 attempts to stay on track by incorporating some of the best qualities found in other top tier racing games. Now, you may be thinking that there hasn't been a good bike game developed for a long time and you would be right. This is due to the physics of multiple items in a 3-dimensional plane of existence instead of just one. So what does Ride 2 offer?

You just heard me mention about the challenges pertaining to creating a true motorcycle racing experience as opposed to a racing experience involving a car. This is primarily due to a few complex reasons. First off, the multiple breaking system used within the different corners offers varying degrees of control and function, and while some may claim it's similar to using the e-brake in a car it's not. While a car has a low center of gravity and a wide body to grip the road, a bike does not. This means that acceleration and control have to be fine-tuned using complex algorithms that have to take into account another problem, the rider. The rider IS (caps inserted for emphasis) the bike's center of gravity and it's not in a fixed position. If you want to do a proper motorcycle simulation you have to account for the way the bike will handle while shifting this center of gravity to different points on a bike which is something you don't have to worry about in a car. This is why I tend to think of a playing card. If you lay it flat on the table it has the same properties of a car, but turn it on its edge and that will give you a rough idea of a bike's properties.

This is why Ride 2 tries hard to incorporate the varying degrees of physics needed to make a quality virtual motorcycle racing experience. For the most part they succeed. With an ability to adjust the racing experience, you'll quickly come to experience everything I just mentioned should you be brave enough to switch the bike assists off and have to manage your own weight on the bike at all times. There is going to be a learning curve in regards how to handle a bike at high speeds and in cornering, and depending on how real of a simulation you wish to have, your chosen level will also determine how steep a learning curve you have ahead of you.

Case in point, I tried to do my entire first race in 1st gear, not on purpose of course. Yup, the light hit green and I floored it, which in turn caused my front end to lift, like ET going home, and within the first 50 feet I was already sliding along my backside and completely detached from my bike. I tried again and again, and admittedly it wasn't until my 5th retry or so that I figured out that the B button changed gears. That helped out tremendously....until I took my first corner.

This is when I realized that going 162 MPH into a sharp right hand turn was more of a fantasy I had in my head than something that was obtainable in this digital reality. I tried to lock my brakes but all that did was throw me like a lawn dart into a guardrail and over the side. It was here that I first discovered the magical LB button for rewind (just like you'll find in Forza) and after a while I finally got the hang of controlling the throttle response around corners and that's when things became very enjoyable, and less violent and abusive to my rider. And speaking of riders.

You get to create your rider from a small amount of pre-loaded variables. There isn't a great deal of customization and what is available is relatively pointless, so you'll essentially be here for only a few short minutes and then move onto your first race. You'll have the option right from the beginning to launch into the more linear campaign of single player style races, but there is also quick race, online racing and more. Being completely ignorant to the game's physics engine is where I decided to tackle the single player races first (this is where the story earlier above you just read of my colossal incompetence comes from) and it is also the same area I got to see just what Ride 2 brought to the table in terms of content along with quality.

For starters you'll see a plethora of options in terms of how many bikes are offered, how the races are structured, the customization limits applied to each bike, and so on. I selected my first bike and wanted to see what customization options it had so I pressed the X button and dove right into a "Forza-esque" upgrading system that I've seen for years. Intrigued by this I wanted to see how the tuning options related to a motorbike, and sure enough, in a similar fashion, I had the option to tune my front and rear brakes, suspension and more just in a similar fashion found in other games that rhyme with "Morza".

I had a limited number of bikes so I decided to go with some of the amateur races first (I had no choice since the other difficulties were locked until the previous races were completed). Each class contained about 6 races that varied from traditional 3-lap races to various mini games such as overtake 'X' number of riders for a gold medal. I went through the various pre-race options, and again I saw a heavy influence that was taken from other racing games. I was perplexed as to the amount of liberty taken at recreating various aspects and wanted to see how many more similarities there were, and I was shocked.

One of the biggest was the panning camera that you see cover a newly purchased bike. It almost follows an identical path to the camera system found in Forza games. This got me thinking though, why wouldn't you infuse similar elements into your game if you already know that what your basing it off of is an incredible racing simulation? Then the answer hit me, it's not about incorporating those elements into your game, but rather perfecting the content within the game itself that leads to the incorporation of such systems. Essentially what I'm trying to say is that just by incorporating elements from more successful games into your own game doesn't make it great. What makes it great is perfecting the content within the game itself. This can be easily seen in a games' graphics.

While Ride 2 tries to capture the Forza camera system, sadly the environments do not look nearly as impressive. To tell you the truth they feel tremendously dated. In one easy comparison, you'll instantly recognize Nurburgring in Germany. You note that a lot of the tracks are merely large tracks that are broken up into different sections, but all of it feels like it's something we could have seen back on the Xbox 360's early years. This is quite shocking since the install size of the game is over 31GB of space, the bike count is just over 170 and the load times are again quite lengthy. Just starting the game is quite long and in-between races you're looking and close to a minute of waiting. Unfortunately, this was not addressed in the almost 10GB patch that came with the game. Sound is not bat though, as you know you are racing a motorcycle, and you hear other ones, but that is all that caught my attention.

Despite the lackluster quality with some of its characteristics, Ride 2 still manages to provide a decent quality motorbike racing experience. With gameplay that is improved upon from the original, and many features taken from accomplished racing games and implemented within, you get the feeling that Ride 2 is a monumental step in the right direction for this series. If the original game was a reflection of this series' infancy stage, Ride 2 is easily where it starts to walk on it's own, and hopefully with Ride 3 we will see just what can happen when this game improves itself to the point where it can start to run.

Suggestions: Work on the following:

- shorter load times
- smarter AI
- better visuals
- deeper customization options


Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Torment: Tides of Numenera

When I was growing up I had a fondness for the types of books that were written in a 'choose your own adventure' style. I loved how it gave you a choice in how you wanted to experience the story and the freedom to feel like you were writing your own journey. Because of my youth at the time, I didn't know at these types of stories involved multiple story arcs and conclusions, but the whole aspect has been found in some of the most successful video games ever made. Torment: Tides of Numenera, which is developed by inXile Entertainment, is one such title. Now, you may be asking who are they and why should you care. I will provide you with all the answers you seek, and more, because this could easily be one of the best sleeper hits ever found on the Xbox One platform.

Black Isle Studios developed a game way back in 1999 called Planescape: Torment, and what was brilliant about this game was that it relied heavily on story telling, but to make things smooth, Black Isle Studios did something absolutely brilliant, they modified the in-game engine found in Bioware's Baldur's Gate. This was a stroke of brilliance and it paid off. Now, many decades have passed and the successor to Planescape has finally been released and it's called Torment: Tides of Numenera. I have to touch on this because it's one story that has to be told and explains how it came to even exist.

Starting as a Kickstarter back in March of 2013, the game was originally supposed to launch in December of 2014, and it was delayed to February 28, 2017. While that number of years’ for a delay is impressive, Torment also set a record on Kickstarter as it was the highest funded video game of all time on the platform raking in a titanic 4 million dollars, meeting its original goal in only the first 6 hours of its inception on the Kickstarter platform. It was clear that the public wanted this game badly. Normally when we hear a game is being delayed we are fed the traditional corporate line about putting polish on it, or fine tuning this or that, but for a game like Torment, the sheer amount of content found within would take even the largest big name companies years to pull off, and when I say amount of content, I say that because this was one of the largest RPG's I've played in a long, long time.

When you first start off you'll have to decide what type of character you want to play as. You can play as a Glaive, Jack, or Nano. These are your traditional classes and after you've selected one you get to decide what type of abilities you have, and I must point out that Glaives are the only ones that can receive individualized weapon class training. While you can still use weapons in the other classes, the Glaives get the bonus to attack while the Nanos get the bonus to magic. The Jack class is stuck right in the middle and takes a little from both sides. This class is more focused on traps, and while ranged combat could be an option, they can easily hold their own toe to toe.

As you create your character you will also see three colored pools from which you can draw from to increase your abilities. These pools are Might/Strength, Speed, and Magic, and they are talents that you can draw from to make tasks easier. For example, if your character has to move a large object you can use some of your Might/Strength pool to make sure you move it without hurting your character. Using the LS, you move the slider to the right and you will see an increase in percentage chance for completing the task.

The trick here though is balance, because you will have to replenish your pools through the use of items or by resting, so be weary that while you may use your pools now, there may be instances lying around the corner that require the same pool. It's always good to save after you complete a task so that should you need to buy an item from a vendor to increase your depleted talent pools, you can do that, go back and then interact with that other task.

You also have skills to select from that you can increase your knowledge which in turn will grant your character bonuses for what you need to have done. For instance, spending some points on the ability to have a bonus added to your unlock skill will mean that chests, and other secrets, will be easier for you to open. Once you're done with your abilities and stats, your character is created and the story finally begins.

The history behind your character is rather convoluted. The focus of the story is your character, who is called a Castoff. There was once a man who was obsessed with leaving a legacy on the planet. To accomplish this feat this individual created a sort of biological shell shaped in the form of a person to which the individual could transfer his/her consciousness to the body so death would never claim them. This greed became self-indulging and growing, ever constant as this individual would stop at nothing to try and find ways to improve their biological vessel; however, this came at the expense of discarding husks (his former shell) as one would discard a useless tool. Over the lifetimes the individual came to be known as The Changing God.

While it was thought that these humanoid style chambers would just rot into nothingness, this was not the case as somehow the original consciousness grew and developed within the vessel. This constant drive to cheat the inevitable caused the awakening of an ancient evil called The Sorrow. This creature of evil and death is driven by one thing, and that is to maintain the balance between life and death. While this entity seeks out The Changing God, unfortunately it is also searching for all the biological husks that have been discarded over the many centuries, and this means you as well. This is a rough, and I do mean very rough, backbone of Torment's story. The reason it's so sparse is because from this small amount of information, it's up to you to continue and write the story you want to write. This is found right in the beginning of the game.

Remember when I mentioned the 'choose your own adventure' books? Well get ready to read because you will read many novels worth of text throughout Torment. Seriously, the amount of text you will read reminds me of classic RPG/adventure games where it was nothing but one text box after another. Now, you may be thinking I'm bringing this up in a negative light; however, it's one of the greatest strengths of Torment. The story work and pathway development are so strong that you really wish you could experience the entire game in one playthrough. This is because in Torment your actions not only permanently shape the interactions you may have with others in areas of the map, but your own companions as well. Some may like what you do and not, but while we have seen this type of quality in some triple 'A' RPG games, Torment takes this to a totally new level in multiple ways. Not only are your game experiences locked in, but so are your rewards and items as well.

Case in point, towards the very beginning you'll come across a group of treasure hunters or bandits, or whatever you want to call them. If you diffuse the interaction without any form of violence coming to bear, then you net 25 xp per person. However, if you fight and kill everyone, then you gain over 100 xp plus gained loot from the fallen bodies, all of which you can sell for cash.

One thing to note about confrontations, it's turn based. These moments allow your character to have a move action and a combat action per turn, and once they are done it moves onto the next character and so on. So sometimes being a pacifist, or talking your way out of things, could be bad for you and yet sometimes it can be very good.

Another example would be a small side quest I gained when I first got to the center of the first town. I saw a group of people standing around where I could see someone suffering. I talked to a person nearby who told me that they were part of a team and he escaped and that he had a "safe and foolproof" plan to get his captive friend freed. Now, hearing the details of the plan I countered his idea by letting him know I would talk to the crowd and get them unified. He thought that my option was a "hail mary" and he discarded had any potential for success. Sure enough I combed through the crowd and talked to the few available people and proceeded to provide them inspiration through my chat selection options, and after the last one was convinced, the crowd unified together and set the prisoner free.

Now, I could have gone the crazy plan route and had a totally different experience. This selective interaction is constant as the northern star and a major positive contribution to providing entertaining experiences that provide tremendous depth. All of this is observed in a three-quarter angled view that allows you to zoom in and out, and for the most part all looks quite beautiful. All the different areas have their own distinct feel and thankfully the game has the music and special effects to match, but that is all second chair to the story and plot delivery system.

All this beauty does come with a price. Granted the text is the primary aspect that you'll be dealing with in every area of the game, but every new region requires the game to load not only all the text, but all the possible story branches and decision events for that area at that time, and in turn connect it to the other areas that you may not be at yet or those that come from where your choices will make deep everlasting impacts on your gaming experience. Because of this the loading times are very long and while the game is mostly loading a seeming library's worth of text in every region, be prepared to do a lot of waiting and reading.

Other minor gripes include random freezes and crashes that occurred, but they were far and few between. I also found the movement control felt a bit sluggish while maneuvering my character around the map, but that's about it.

Torment: Tides of Numenera has a galactic size amount of content done in a method that allows players to write their own story, and while other games give an option or two, this game gives far more options. Sure, this may not have the HD graphic renderings that fans find on other big titles, but that doesn't mean that this experience falls short at all. Despite a few issues with the gameplay, loading times, and some random crashes, Torment Tides of Numenera provides one of the deepest and most entertaining RPG experiences you will find on the Xbox One. If you like turn based RPG games with more depth than a black hole in space, this game is a must have for you. What will your story say about you? Pick up a controller and find out.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 For Honor

When you get a major publisher like Ubisoft to put its might behind trying to perfect the ultimate "Rock, Paper, Scissor" experience, and you throw in the some of the biggest names in war, you get a rough idea of the foundation of For Honor. Recently released, For Honor is Ubisoft's attempt to innovate the hack and slash genre, because let's face it, that's all you do. Hack and Slash. So, is this simplistic button masher just another generic slasher with a pretty skin, or does For Honor provide depth that will entertain you for months on end and hone your blade work?

Upon starting For Honor you're presented with numerous options for finding and creating games. However, none of this matters until you create your first character and choose which faction of three you want to fight for. You can then customize your shield, which is a simple layer system with limited available options for icons, but never the less, you can get pretty crazy with your choices, and I ended up personally spending a lengthy bit of time trying to get my emblems just right. I did note however that there are some items that can be unlocked through Ubisoft's Club, but when I saw that some were 50 Club points, I said forget that. I could understand maybe an armor design that would fit the Assassin's Creed world, or some other cosmetic change to your weaponry such as items like Excalibur, but only offering shield customization icons seems pretty weak, and charging you for them is even weaker. A small gripe, but none the less a gripe.

Having selected my character, the game automatically throws you right into the training sequence where I strongly recommend that you spend some time to learn the small intricacies of the game itself. The Left Trigger will be your best friend because that will not only help you focus on an enemy so you don't get overwhelmed, but it will also allow you to use the Right Stick to decide which angle you are going to block from. There are three possible zones to defend: Top, Left, and Right. This upside down triangle is going to be your saving grace as you will have to keep the Left Trigger held down, but move the Right Stick to the proper section to make sure you block the incoming attack. Failure to do so will ultimately result in your character taking damage, so make sure you practice blocking or go play something else, because you won't last long.

Just as the blocking is broken down into three sections for defense, those same sections apply to your offense as well. Utilizing the Right Bumper for light attacks and the Right Trigger for heavy attacks, you will quickly learn that the right time to strike is right after a successful block. The key though is that if you try to follow up a block with a heavy attack, make sure that the opponent doesn't interrupt the slow, heavy swing and land some more hits, so balancing your offense is also a paramount key to victory. The training continues to teach you proper techniques for breaking the block of your opponent by pressing X, and then following up with a throw by pressing X again, then you're sent out on your own to stake your claim against the warriors around the world, that is if you can find a stable server connection, but we'll get to that later.

From here you can choose to dive right into multiplayer, which will lead to your demise incredibly quickly, or you can go through the game's campaign. The premise of For Honor is military might and pure dominance for supremacy over the field of battle, so what better way than to experience it through the eyes of the different factions so you gain a perspective of the entire war instead of one narrow aspect. This will take you through about 18 levels and will task you to run through large, linear levels, clearing checkpoints, all the while hacking down everyone that isn't your same faction. Once you get to the end, there's always some dramatic scene that involves a fight to the death and then it's onto the next level, or chapter, in the story.

As you begin, the actions you complete within the campaign help level up your character and develop your skills by unlocking abilities that can help you in your gravest hours. To help expedite the process you can select various difficulties which all provide a corresponding XP boost; however, take note that the hardest difficulty is called Realistic, and it's called that for a reason. You can always replay missions on harder difficulties to earn more XP, but another thing that will help rapidly level up your character is the completion of side objectives, such as breakable items and scanned viewpoints. Now, throughout the missions there are breakable objects (because you have to have breakable pots in a war game right?) and when you break them you can uncover various items that will help your character overall, and then we have the viewpoints to observe.

The viewpoints really feel out of place as it requires you to be looking at a various random spots, such as up on a wall or down a hall in a side room by a door, and then you'll hear a voice describe the visual entry you just scanned. This is also a bit disorienting when you have armies charging you, flaming arrows flying past your head, and/or swords clashing all around you, yet here you are looking at the wall of a castle. Another gripe I will make about the gameplay is that the final execution window is microscopic in size. Once you land a final blow to your enemy that is a heavy attack, you will queue up an execution window where you have about a split second to hit either X or Y to execute. Doing this will replenish some of your lost health as well.

It goes without saying that the gameplay is ridiculously simplistic in terms of what to do and how to control it, but thankfully that gives you less to mess up and can lead to a more enjoyable gaming experience. Sometimes you don't need 40 buttons and 300 analog stick moves to have a good time gaming. By keeping the control and campaign simple Ubisoft allows you to essentially train repeatedly to prepare you for the heart and soul of For Honor, the multiplayer.

The multiplayer mode is comprised of many aspects you'll see throughout the campaign. For instance, Dominion will put you right at home with AI allies and it's just kill everything that's against your team while finishing some objectives till you amass about 1,000 points, then rinse and repeat. The Skirmish and Elimination modes both have issues, but Skirmish is a basically a 4v4 deathmatch, whereas Elimination essentially is last man standing. Now the common fault that they both share is that there's no way to individually single out one game mode over another. So basically when you pick Deathmatch, you have a 50/50 shot as to what game mode you get to play.

The other two modes of multiplayer focus solely on human opponents and are subsequently titled Duel and Brawl. In Duel, it's just what the title says; It's you versus one other person. The winner is the one left standing. This is where you want to go if you want to prove your worth. No teammate to blame, no evasion, just the outright skill versus skill of opponents, or what I like to call, the purest combat. Brawl is similar to Duel except that instead of 1v1, it's 2v2. This mode can get intense when you start to mix and match different character styles and different move sets. Without question you will find both your hardest challenges here as well as your greatest sense of victory and domination.

Another major victory has to come with the graphics of For Honor, because they are strikingly detailed. Every detail in the environments to those found in your character is brought to life in a way that does a sensational job immersing you into the life of the warrior. Alongside the stunning graphics is a dynamic soundtrack and voice overs that remind me a lot of the opening voice of The Lord of the Rings movies. It's little touches like this that can turn a regular hack and slash game into a truly grand adventure full of wonderment and excitement.

While all this incredible joy is being showered all over, now sadly comes the time when the hammer drops and some ugly truths are revealed. It comes with tremendous displeasure to announce that microtransactions are a huge part of For Honor. If you want to purchase a new character for instance, you'll need to have about 500 scrap (which is primarily found by destroying the breakable objects), and when scavenging for scrap this will take you an insane amount of time, so you pretty much have to engage in microtransactions just to get the character and design you want. I'm sorry, but this is something I strongly oppose and feel is a major weakness in the armor of this game. You would think that would be the worst of it, but sadly it's not.

The multiplayer aspect of For Honor involves peer-to-peer networking and not everyone is sitting on an open NAT with a 1GB fiber optic line. In fact, you'll find a vast amount of moderate and closed NAT types (how they ever enjoy multiplayer experiences is beyond me), and when that happens, the multiplayer of For Honor seems to develop tremendous lag and latency problems, which logically, will impact and have a negative effect on your gameplay experience. This is severely disappointing due to the simple fact that For Honor's heart and soul resides within the multiplayer, and if this suffers such a negative impact, I think it won't be surprising to see a community up and vanish from the game itself. So, if this issue isn't addressed, then For Honor's sustaining community will vanish and what is a social game without the social aspect?

Overall, For Honor does a great job trying to find a new way of telling a very old and very familiar story. It accomplishes so much that it does provide an entertaining way to push you through the repetition of a hack and slash game. However, when you least expect it, you get impaled right through the heart by a broken multiplayer experience where the fragments of microtransactions and more splinter through the game, and while the blow isn't fatal now, if the connection issues aren't addressed, it will be.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Doodle God: Ultimate Edition

Have you ever seen a sporting legend that stayed in their profession for longer than they should have? Someone unwilling to succumb to the truth that they are now in the twilight of their time and should gracefully step out of the spotlight and enjoy life, yet they soldier on. Doodle God does the same thing, except it's not sporting or an a legend. In fact, JoyBits is charging $9.99 for something that is so simplistic a monkey could play it, and that's probably because they would be the only ones to pay $9.99 for this game. Listen, I know I'm supposed to have an open mind for all games, but Doodle God is 7 years old. Let me repeat that: Doodle God is 7 years old. $10 for a 7-year-old game? Hmm... That got me thinking...

What in the world was JoyBits thinking? OK, for starters the game itself is about you doing one thing over and over again, which is combining two items to make more items, so on and so forth. You play a version of God who must develop and populate a planet that is in front of you. Apparently you're armed with the elements of earth, wind, fire and water. From here you literally have to open one option on the left side, and one on the right side. From there you use the Left Stick and the Right Stick to select the two various items you want to combine. If you fail, and you will countless times, then the game will simply give you an error buzz, and you continue on. If successful though, you will see an uneventful animation of the two tiles colliding and producing a new and different tile. From this new tile, you get to recombine it with everything else ALL OVER AGAIN, to see if you can make one more tile.

That's it. That's essentially all you do, matching tile after tile in boring repetition to the point where I actually caught myself drifting off to sleep, because when you take all the bells and whistles outta this game, it literally boils down to selecting one menu on the left and side, then open every single menu on the right hand side, and go through the combination process of every tile in every single menu on the right hand side. The process is so monotonous that the game tries to give you side quests and missions to do such as "make ice" or "make a mushroom", and quests like "rescue a princess from a dragon." That last quest I mention requires you to start with a limited amount of menu selections, where you must do MORE combining to fill out the rest of your squares, thus raising your completion percentage at the top left corner, and once it reaches 100% then you're complete with the mission.

To break up the tediousness of doing nothing but combining, the game breaks it up by giving you more options to do nothing more but, you guessed it, combining. Now normally I'd go off and tell you more about the control scheme and what does what, but there's literally no point in doing so as the rest of the buttons are incredibly redundant and pointless. Case in point, there's the X button to give you a hint. That's fantastic. Or you can just start making every combination possible and you'll essentially make all the hints worthless, but there is a dedicated button should you require that unnecessary hint. Using the Left and Right Triggers open menus on both sides, and you'll press the A button a lot. Remember the old Xbox videos showing that the controllers are tested in a facility and they show the buttons being pressed over and over again in rapid succession? That's you when you're playing this $10 game.

The graphics do look decent on the Xbox One, but that's not saying much for a mobile game that's nearly a decade old. Of course it's going to look better, but sadly it doesn't do anything to help cure the boredom of endless mind numbing combining. There is music in the game, but I'm unsure why. All you'll hear is the haunting sound of the error "buzzer" when you miss a combination. There is an adult setting for the game, the reason being is that apparently during the text that you read there's cursing and other "adult" ideas such as making vodka.

I have to sadly dive back into the whole combining nature and tell you that in the first stage of your development there are just shy of 250 elements you must make through combinations. Let that number sink in, then think of all the menus and all the options, all the button presses, and all the errors with an accompanying sound. When you get finished with that there's new modes, and guess what you get to do there? Yet even MORE combining.

In my opinion, this game shouldn't be called Doodle God, it should be called "match boxes together in a mildly mentally challenged state of mind until you either get so bored you quit the game, fall asleep, or just go do something else that's more productive". I think that wouldn't quite fit in the title area though so I guess Doodle God it is then.

I'm sorry, normally I'd carry on about a game whether or not it's good or bad, but I think it's pretty obvious at this point. If this game is a penny over $4.99 it feels like theft, pure and simple, so imagine how we feel about the $10 price point. If you're that hard up for literally one of the most repetitive matching games you'll ever experience feel free to pick it up, but when you feel that overwhelming sadness for having wasted $10 on something that now is the cause of your severe case of the boredoms, don't say I didn't warn you.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Sniper Elite 4

Throughout the years, the Sniper Elite games have taken leaps and bounds in terms of progression as they have tried to deliver the most realistic sniping experiences you will ever play on a console. Having originally only played the first game, I felt that premise was good; however, the execution I found to be substantially lacking. Now though, throughout multiple years and multiple evolutions, Sniper Elite 4 has launched, and like a fine wine, this series has only gotten better with age. In fact, I can say right now that this is going to be one of the predominant sniper experiences that you can find on the Xbox One console at this moment. Now without further ado, let's take a peek inside Sniper Elite 4.

Right from the opening menu you're faced with a few options to get your sniper experience going. These range from single player campaign, multiplayer, co-operative, and shooting range. Wanting to see how the bullet physics evolved I first loaded up the shooting range. Here you can take a variety of rifles out to the range and see which one feels best for you. When you enter the range (as is the case with every mode in Sniper Elite 4) you will have the choice to select the difficulty. This difficulty determines just how the game itself will react with your sniping. Bullet physics mean almost everything in this game, but as I was starting out, I selected normal which included bullet physics (which does include drop) and more.

As soon as everything loaded up I could see a dramatic improvement in the graphics and I started to head to the armory. It was here I went through the different rifles and noted the pros and cons of each. Once I selected my rifle I headed across to the firing range where I had the chance to hit both stationary targets and moving ones from a distance of 10 meters to over 150. Now there are somethings I have to mention up front.

First, if you have an Elite controller, you will want to cancel out the trigger lock for both triggers and I'll tell you why; Sniper Elite 4 combines a 3 stage aiming system where the first stage is just firing from the hip and is very inaccurate except at very close range. The second stage is a shoulder fire and this is what we've come to expect from a 3rd person shooter, and then finally you have your zoomed in scope aiming where you are able to pick off individual organs of your enemies. Now, should you have your trigger lock engaged you will never be able to go into the final aiming system, so you'll be limiting yourself to either hip fire or shoulder fire.

During my time in the shooting range I spent a few moments getting acclimated to switching between the 2nd and 3rd stages of aiming and I noticed that the game seems to hesitate just a hair when switching between the two which gives you a sense that the game is "locking in" the point of view you wish to use. But just getting used to the aiming modes and bullet physics is only part of the education, as there's one last major factor you have to learn to manage, and that's your breathing.

On the bottom right hand side of your screen you'll see a meter filled by a blue line which represents your stamina or "breath." When you are looking through your aiming sights you will see that this meter shifts to become a large meter on the left hand side of the screen. You can press in the Left Stick to hold your breath which will bring up a bullet targeting reticle which will tell you when you pull the trigger and the bullet will go there.

Now, as you continue to hold your breath, the meter will grow and the bullet targeting will substantially get smaller to indicate a more accurate shot. This mode is only temporary because as the meter increases to the top, it will change from blue to flashing red. thus reset all together and you will have to wait for the 'cooldown' period before you can engage in a precise shot.

This meter doesn't just deplete upon holding your breath, but it also depletes upon your character sprinting, but thankfully freezes at current levels while climbing or hanging from a ledge. This means that should you be sprinting away to a higher vantage point, upon your arrival you could find yourself out of breath and having to wait a few moments before you can start to acquire your targets.

I left the shooting range and decided to check out the other modes. Now given that this was an early review copy I could not find others to participate in any multiplayer or co-operative games; however, after going through the various menus I was impressed to see such a solid structure for both platforms of gameplay. In co-operative missions you can do things like spotter/sniper co-op or even tackle the main campaign missions together which could lead to some absolutely amazing sniping crossfire action. You have the option in both gameplay modes to er find a game in action or create your own through a private lobby system.

Multiplayer includes various modes such as Team Deathmatch and more, and both gameplay modes allow you to customize the settings such as level, difficulty and more. Even though I was unable to experience these modes due to the game simply not being out yet, I got the sensation that there has been tremendous focus to ensure the stability and entertainment in these modes is maintained for all players.

With the inability to find both multiplayer and co-operative modes I switched my focus over to the main campaign of Sniper Elite 4. Taking place during Hitler's rise to power and the territorial onslaught that the Germans had with their allies, the Italians, it's up to you to try and help your own allied nations overcome the growing terror threat and reclaim strategic positions in the regions to help liberate the neighboring lands and crush the opposition.

While the premise is historical, it does boil down to one simple thing, a massive sandbox full of enemies to kill and objectives too complete. After the first mission you are given what I'm calling a loading area where you will find various allies who, when you talk with them, will give you optional side quests to achieve during your mission. Then once you have acquired all your intel from available sources, you will proceed to one area of the map to start your mission.

Once you arrive in your mission area, if you press the back button you will see an overview of the entire map itself. In my gameplay time, I would plan my points of attack, and quite often I would find myself advancing to a certain point on the map where I would back track (sometimes all the way back to the beginning) and consult my map on how to traverse down a secondary pathway that would lead me to where I came from, but from a different vantage point which allowed me to seemingly create a pinch from both sides.

It must be pointed out that the enemy AI in this game isn't the brightest, but what they lack in overall intelligence, they more than make up for in numbers. However, they are substantially intelligent though compared to other shooters. For example, in one mission I tried to take out someone's liver and I missed, so this person dropped to the ground but wasn't dead. Another soldier found him, picked him up over his shoulder, and walked him back to what he thought was a safe area, where he set the enemy down and knelt down and patched him up, resulting in my downed target up and walking around.

So granted yes, there is a heavy dose of fantasy (last time I checked a sniper rifle round to the chest back in those days was pretty fatal), but you'll find that the number one thing that will give you away is sound. Your sound can give you away, but it can also be your friend if you figure out how to use it to your advantage. To do this I armed myself with my trusty rock, whistle, and combat knife. You'll see why I chose to bring a knife to a gunfight.

During the last mission I played I killed over 132 enemies, 117 of those were from knife kills. The way I did this was sound management and playing off some of the stupidity of the AI. The mission placed me within a small town so there were lots of buildings, and the town was adjacent to a neighboring church. Upon starting the mission, I pressed in my Right Stick, which brought up my binoculars (you'll be doing that A LOT of this), and using the Right Trigger I marked my enemies on my HUD and mini map on the bottom right.

Now I could go in guns blazing and leave a wake of bodies, blood and bullets, but I wanted to experiment and see if it was possible to go through a level, such as this, firing as few shots as possible. To do this I had to stick to crouching in bushes to not be seen (which was pretty hilarious when I had an RPG strapped to my back that was sticking out about 3-4 feet above the top of the bushes that no one seemed to notice). From there I would equip my rock and while hidden in the bushes, I would angle my throw to direct only one enemy at a time to get closer to me. Once they were within range I would switch out to my whistle and call them over to the bush (honestly if I were hearing a bush whistle I'd empty a clip into the bush before I went in there, but that's just me), where I would pounce and do an instant melee kill on the enemy and the body would automatically hide in the bushes. Step one complete.

The enemy AI will say something along the lines of "There's someone missing", and for some reason they knew that this fellow soldier went missing in this one bush that I happen to be hiding in (don't ask me how they knew because I have no idea). This is where things get interesting because you will either have one lone soldier coming, or, because the soldier looking frantic will draw other soldiers near him to follow along), a small squad of soldiers (the max I ever had around me was about 8 at once) will come along. If it's a lone soldier, all you do is wait in the bushes and when they approach, use your knife and pile up the bodies in the bush.

It is here where I would use some strategy. By now a section of the patrol unit was missing and this alerts the guards in the surrounding areas and they will go to where the last known location was. But I like my bush (giggity). So, I would see a small group of about 4 enemies headed my direction. This is where I switch out to my trusty rock and throw one away from me in a perpendicular direction.

Now all 4 enemies hear the sound to their side and turn and shift focus in that direction. All 4 enemies then take off in pursuit towards that area. During this time, I press in the Left Bumper and bring up my weapon radial where I select a delayed S-mine, and it's here that I hold down the Right Bumper to rig the body with this booby trap as I pick up the body and set him away from my bush.

The 4 enemies haven't found anyone so they start to spread out, but I want them together so I arm my trusty rock and this time I throw it back to where they were originally. Now they all run back to where the sound was but this time in the road they see a body of their fallen soldier. Alarmed by this all 4 start running towards the trap laced body. Now normally upon reaching the body, the first soldier would normally get caught in the blast and maybe the second, however, since I selected a delayed version of my mine, it allowed the few short seconds to allow the other 3 soldiers to catch up only to be caught in the blast. So I've already killed 6 enemies with one mine and two knife attacks, and no shots fired.

There are other ways you can adapt your gameplay to the situation. For instance, later on in that same level I managed, through a lot of walking and observation, to find a back entrance into a compound. Standing upright and running by the ladder going up into the compound I had triggered a total of 5 enemies alerted (running upright = lots of noise), so they sent one unlucky guy to come down the ladder and check out the noise. Hiding back from the ladder I called the guy over and used my knife to take him down. From here I applied the booby trap method described earlier and managed to get three out of the remaining four soldiers.

The 4th soldier got scared and flew back up the ladder and took a defensive position focusing on the ladder itself. During this time, I decided to plant a mine at the bottom of the ladder and use my whistle to draw him in and sure enough, like a moth to a flame, as soon as his boots hit the ground he was a stain on the wall.

This type of environment manipulation plays a critical role in Sniper Elite 4 and will serve a vital role in keeping your presence very low. There are numerous types of soldiers such as regular infantry, snipers, radio beacon transmitters, officers and more, and each of them carry with them not only details about them, but possible items and weaponry as well. You can find this information out through the binoculars. When you tag an item or an enemy with the left trigger, if you leave it in focus you will start to compile information on that target. This is incredibly useful since, for example, if a soldier who uses a radio beacon sees any disturbance, or you, then they will call in for reinforcements and that's when your day goes from bad to worse, because those can consist of Panzer tanks and other military vehicles that aren't so fun to play with. Sniper Elite 4 is far more of a strategic gameplay experience than a mindless shooter.

So, we've established that this game is incredibly fun and an intense experience, however there are a few drawbacks that take a shot or two at the game itself. First have to be the graphics. Sniper Elite 4 is a beautiful game with incredible water and lighting effects, and physics that can be incredibly fun. Trucks for instance have about 3 timed explosion tiers: the first one which destroys the truck, then the engine explodes, then the cargo. One time I killed an enemy soldier by blowing up the truck and when his fellow soldier came to check on him the second explosion hit which caused the door to fire off and instantly kill the second infantryman.

However, if you find yourself rapidly trying to change your vantage point, or even run for that matter, you'll find tremendous amount of screen tearing and it's very disorienting. You almost find yourself deliberately playing the game at a slower pace that you would want just to prevent that from happening and it seems to hinder the fluidity of the game's combat. Now, this is a huge issue since acquiring targets requires you to adapt to your environment and conditions in combat and if you're being disoriented because the screen is tearing, then that's a pretty major flaw.

Another flaw comes in the gameplay. With only a few quick-select slots, but a massive selection available from the radial menu, you find that the quick-selection slots are pretty worthless since the game pauses during your radial selection. I know that the game is trying to make you prioritize what you want at your fingertips and how snipers only carry essential items; however, when you force a balance between items, traps, and weapons, you quickly realize that all of these items are essential yet there's no way to select a different set of "quick select" options, so back again you go to the radial menu. This again creates a disorienting pause effect in the gameplay, and while I used it at times to tactfully plan my next few moves, I felt again that this was a massive setback to the fluidity of the game. This is why I stuck with my rock and whistle and controlled the environment.

There are some other light RPG elements though found within the game that adds to the game's enjoyment. For instance, when you hit various levels of experience you can unlock various perks for your sniper, such as decreased fall damage, increased heart rate recovery and more. Plus, every weapon also comes with its own set upgrades that require some certain criteria to be met before it's unlocked. In my case I used my rifle and its criteria were:

- 1. - Total Kill Distance = 10Km. (Completing this upgraded my rifle's damage)

- 2. - 25 Environmental Explosion Kills. (Completing this upgraded my rifle's stability)

- 3. - 10 Liver Shots. (Completing this upgraded my rifle's zoom)

- 4. - Mastery: 25 Double Kills (This can only be completed once the first 3 criteria are completed. Upon completion you're awarded a mastery skin for your weapon and a nice achievement for mastering one weapon.)

Sniper Elite 4 has come a long way from its first initial iteration and the evolution between games is night and day. This current release has the largest maps you will ever find in a Sniper Elite game. The combat is done in an incredibly balancd Fight Vs. Flight manner, and despite the flaws in the graphics and some gameplay issues, the game is an incredibly enjoyable experience from start to finish. Every mission in the campaign has tons of collectibles to find so you'll be enjoying the exploration as you traverse all types of terrain at all points of day and night. While multiplayer wasn't available at the time, if it's execution is carried out with the same detailed precision as the game, then expect that to be a major source of hour draining fun. It goes without saying that Sniper Elite 4 set its mark high on delivering a fairly incredible experience, and despite the few faults, it has hit that mark dead center.

Suggestions: Please fix the screen tearing and provide some increase quick selection options for the user.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic

Have you ever found yourself playing a game that was so addictive that you found yourself getting absorbed by the repetition? Well if you haven't, then meet Pixel Heroes: Byte and Magic from Headup Games. This game first came out back in October of 2014, and normally that would start to send up red flags as I tend to consider games like these to be cash grabs due to price points, age of their content, and more. This game though, priced at $9.99, has a crafty way to snag that crisp $10 bill from your wallet and we will get into that latter, but first, the game.

Right from the beginning you are enveloped by pixelated retro graphics that harken back before a time when those who would consider a PSone an antique were born. Now, I know that a lot of games have tried to embrace a retro vibe; however, quite a lot have gotten it wrong and I think it's because they used it for a scapegoat in development. Headup Games on the other hand actually flaunts it in your face and makes sure you realize that of course it's an easy scapegoat. There were times when my character got hit and they would comment, "even my blood is blocky!"

Before you adventure begins Pixel Heroes starts you off in a bar where you can tell the type of game you're about to get into as you read the humor in the character chat bubbles. It's here in the bar that the game will center its hub so to speak. This centralized area is where you can recruit up to three individual characters. Pixel Heroes relies on the whole "rock beats scissors" motive with certain elements and elemental weapons working well against specific types and so on.

Right from the beginning you'll be choosing your characters, which range from classes such as dwarves, knights and barbarians to herbalists (yes those kinds of herbs), witches, clerics, and more. Some will have high strength with physical attacks but weak with magic and vice versa. These are all tactics we are used to seeing in games; however, take note of strengths and weaknesses because you'll be back at the bar picking three more heroes again... and again... and again...

This is thanks to Pixel Heroes' uncanny ability to not only deliver a quality humorous experience, but the ability to openly mock and impersonate other people, movies, etc. as you wander through the paths to and from various dungeons. For instance, I was greeted by a black pixelated person wearing a black trench coat and black sunglasses who called himself Orpheous and offered me a choice to take a red pill, a blue pill, both, or I could ignore him.

Various choices you make will be either beneficial or detrimental to your party, and sometimes combat is the best choice because while you may risk taking damage, you'll also gain experience which you can use to level up, plus you can gain some gear while you're doing it. Should you ignore these events though, you'll head straight to your dungeon and start the 8 rooms that can either be a battle or test of character, and this is why I mentioned balance was so important.

You will come across chests in-game. These chests require certain levels of certain stats to open, so while one chest may require a high level of strength, another may require a high level of faith, and so on. Should your character fail in this task they will receive damage in the form of a trap that could essentially halve your full health instantly.

You may think that you're going to be ok because you have health potions, but I cannot stress enough how you need to save as many of these as you can early on because normally the only way to gain more is through combat. This is why I found a need to almost always run with a healer, as their skills will grant the ability needed to keep people alive without the need of a potion.

Now, back to the bar. So, you have your chosen three characters and the rest of the patrons at the bar leave and get all pissed off at you for not hiring them for whatever reason. After they depart in walks a pixelated crazy person wearing a sign that says the "End is Nigh!". This person foretells the doom lingering on the horizon, and after hearing his tale off your go into the village. Before you leave though, check out the band in the bar, simply called The Band.

This is where you accept your various quests. You can only select one quest at a time and the quest will take you to one of the dungeons on the map. The quests come from villagers with exclamation marks over their heads and are sold by the floating exclamation marks company who won't sell you any, but everyone else is fair game. Once you talk to a villager you'll get some sob tale of a book missing, or a ring that was lost, etc, and now you have to prepare yourself for the task ahead.

You start with 800 gold and when you see that 200 gold buys one low health potion, you quickly realize you're dead broke. There is a temple in the village where you can buy potions and resurrect your fallen heroes for a price should you need. Once your hero dies, they are dead and gone until either revived at the temple for cash or your entire party is wiped out and you're sent back to the bar to start over.

This quirky method of enforcing repetition through humor is something that dramatically helps stave off the mundane actions you will be repeating for as long as you play this. The gameplay is interesting as all heroes have weapons they can use, but they also have unique abilities which can either deal tremendous damage or aid your characters in a special way. Even the whole balance aspect can be found here, let me explain.

Let's say you get yourself a cleric, or other magic user, that has the ability to dispel any status effects (absolutely critical); however, you can gain these same immunities by equipping gear that makes you impervious to it. Do you use a character slot for a character to use that ability, or do you take your chances and try to gain equipment that will make you immune, thus allowing you to free up a character slot for something else? These are the balancing acts that will keep you going insane, but also enjoying every moment of the ride. When you do get into a fight, you'll notice it's strictly turn based. Not only is it turn based, but your 2nd turn can't involve the same character, so Pixel Heroes forces you to utilize at least two characters. Oh, and those abilities I told you about earlier, there's a cooldown period (in turns) in between uses, so use sparingly and as a last resort.

One gripe I do have is that the inventory is so small that you will quickly, and I mean very quickly, find yourself out of room, thus forcing you to trash a bunch of your gear. Because unlike Fallout 4, you can't move onto the next room if you are carrying any fraction of weight over 20. I wish there were merchants before bosses that allowed you to sell your unwanted items, but rest assured you'll be hating the inventory capacity almost after your 1st dungeon.

There are a lot of RPG elements built into this little indie game, but as I wasn't sure what to expect, and in the end I wound up actually enjoying this game quite a bit. I loved the roadside interactions and felt that the comical atmosphere made the game more enjoyable, and in the end that's one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, we play games in the first place, because we want to enjoy them. Sure, there are some faults with this game, it's a few years old, and the $10 price point may seem steep for the content you're getting. If you really enjoy retro styled pixelated games that cram RPG elements and humor into a mesmerizing mix that will result in you spending hours in trying to get everything just right, then this game is for you.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Siegecraft Commander

With all the different genres of gaming that exist in the world today, one of my favorite is tower defense games. I'm secretly addicted to the strategy aspect of trying to overcome your foe through mental preparation rather than an outright assault. Recently, Blowfish Studios released Siegecraft Commander for $19.99 and it offers a new spin on tower defense. They have combined the elements of that genre with an overall real-time strategy (RTS) core. So has Blowfish Studios created a RTS game worthy of its' price? I'm not so sure it has, let me tell you why.

To start things off, you have your choice of what game mode you want to play in the form of campaign and multiplayer, and that is it. When you choose campaign you can pick what side you want to play as. There are lizard type creatures or overpompous knights to choose from; however, none of the selections will net you any substantial benefit over the other, and neither provides any worthwhile content to care about. In essence you choose from two pointless sides in a meaningless struggle that is based on poor humor and bad writing, rather than perfecting a gameplay experience that is entertaining. For this instance of description though, I'll choose the overpompous knights.

The campaign itself is laid out like a book where each level tells its own interactive story in its own chapter of the book. While this idea is a novel one that fits the atmosphere of the game, you'll rapidly find that the levels serve to be your tutorial guide, but more than that, you'll find that the repetition of the campaign will get incredibly boring and tedious very, very quickly.

Without any sort of dynamic plot, or any substance to help drive a comedic storyline, there isn't much of anything to keep you playing the campaign outside of the numerous 100 point achievements that can be gained. Sure, you have a total of two stories to play through (one for each race), but with each one providing the same lackluster experience, you really can't fathom why you would want to subject yourself to that much mundane gameplay with so little meaningful experiences.

The object of Siegecraft Commander is simple, you build towers and construct forces in an effort to overrun and destroy your opponents’ towers and destroy the enemy Keep. While you build your towers you have the enemy AI working against you, so for all the progress you make in the level, the enemy AI will rebuild and send their forces after your towers. In our case, with the overpompous knights, I found myself throwing out Outposts like crazy.

I should clarify something first before moving on though. To construct a building, you first start with your own Keep, press the A button on it and it will bring up a radial wheel where you select what tower you wish to build. Structures like an Armory, which can lead to building airships, or a Garrison, which provides you the opportunity to build barracks to produce troops, are two such things you can build. Then there are also defenses that you can build such as mortars that can attack incoming enemy defenses, or a ballista that can shoot down oncoming enemy airships. While it's good to have these protections, they will re-arm themselves after a cooldown of about 30 seconds, so should they fire once and the enemy forces keep coming, it's up to you to defend your towers.

To do this, you must first become familiar with how to build, and that is a different topic all together. To build these objects after you select them, you will see a green crossbow above your Keep, from here you will draw back with your analog stick and then fire your crossbow. Then you will see a cannonball fire from the tower and with it you will see it drag a string of walls behind it. This is how your objects get built and how your walls connect all your objects together.

One downfall is that it's easy to block off your troops from an area if you're not careful. Thanks to the walls, any sort of land troops will have to be directed around them, which can create not only a lengthy game, since they move at a snail's pace, but it can really draw out. This excessive building of towers will eventually lead to the game grinding to a massive halt given that it's apparent that Siegecraft Commander can't handle a lot of consecutive towers on the map at one time. And speaking of the map...

On the map you will find points scattered throughout that contain either blue or yellow magic crystals. As stated earlier, you can follow a natural progression of the towers and everything they unlock; however, to unlock everything you will have to take control over both yellow and blue crystal points in order to produce everything you need, especially in the realm of magic. Magic can be costly to obtain but it can offer tremendous benefits in both cooldown times and magical shields and spells that not only provide protection for your towers, but also turn the tide of battle by attacking your enemy's towers with magic.

While all of this seems in depth, the whole building process itself is a total letdown and near disaster. Should you block your troops in, you cannot destroy your towers on your own, so you'll have to wait for the enemy to destroy them before the troops can be of any use.

While the multiplayer aspect of the game can allow for up to 4 people online, there never really seems to be a point to doing so. With all of that being said though, the game does have a decent visual look going for it. I'm not talking a phenomenal artistic rendition, but it's far better than some other indie games that have been released on the Xbox One. The sound on the other hand is insignificant to the point where I found myself actually generating overly stereotypical voices just to try and add some form of real humor and enjoyment to the game. That lasted for the first few levels and then I got bored trying to keep up with all the mediocrity and I stopped all together.

With everything taken into account, $19.99 feels like highway robbery for Siegecraft Commander. I know I normally break into some form of summary, but I had to just had to say this right off the get-go. The play controls are oversensitive, the building mechanics are poor at best, the game delivers no incentive to play past the first level, and it slows to a crawl should you build too many towers. I am honestly sorry to more negative than positive, but this is sadly our reality. If you're into RTS games then please wait till this is either free with the Games with Gold program, or wait till it's $4.99 if you absolutely have to have this game. Die hard Tower Defense fans need only apply here.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Very few developers can make a platform game worth playing. While the overall design may seem simplistic, the real challenge is fine tuning all of the game's intricate aspects. Earlier this year WayForward released their game Shantae and the Pirate's Curse and now they're back. They have recently released Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, on the Xbox One, for the price of $19.99. Their previous release was met with great praise. So, has WayForward delivered another enjoyable platformer, or have any dreams of a quality game sunk before we take flight?

For those who haven't played the previous game, the series involves the adventures of a Half-Genie female who was hired to protect a town. In this adventure you are awoken, in a sort of dream realm, where you encounter a mysterious spirit who vaguely informs you of grave danger ahead, and only you have the power to prevent the future catastrophe from happening. Then it's gone, just as quickly as it appeared, and you find your character waking in her bed and trying to decide if what she experienced was real or not.

Heading into the town (in the game silly) you'll get a sense of the game's control and notice how simplistic, yet precise, some of the inputs are. Your character, Shantae, still has her infamous hair whip, and of course the dancing does return. Shantae uses her belly dancing skills for multiple reasons, such as transforming into various animals, each one providing special moves and abilities, and using magical spells designed to help her throughout each level. This time around though, there are a total of 12 different dances to learn, so with only seven stages you will find yourself replaying them over and over again should you wish to unlock everything Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has in store for you.

WayForward has managed to combine several elements of classic franchises into a method of platforming that provides countless hours of entertainment. This is thanks in no small part to the story. Normally you would think such repetition would be boring, and most of the time I'd agree with you, but Shantae: Half-Genie manages to add levity to the situation in multiple ways.

The humor injected into the storyline that prides itself in frivolity and whimsy instead of being dark, brooding and dramatic is one way the game adds this levity I speak of. Sure, there will be some serious elements, but overall the story is meant to be enjoyed with a smile on your face, and that is what you'll have. For example, in game you'll find yourself fighting Risky Boots and her pirates as she attacks you with her "Part Omni-Organic, Partially Titanic, Ocean-Optional Tinkerslug" or as Shantae calls it: POOP TOOT! Risky undoubtedly hates that name and thus a battle ensues. These types of comical moments can also be found throughout the levels themselves and go a long way to helping numb the boredom found replaying a level numerous times. Before I continue though, I have to address something about this game.

It looks beautiful. From the character modeling, the 2.5D painted backgrounds to the special effects and the animation, almost everything pertaining to the visual look of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a sight to behold. You almost get the feeling that you're playing a retro game, yet through the perspective of a modern day HD console platform, and you are in a sense. All the classic platformers that have staked their claim to greatness have done so by trying to deliver a visual experience to match the game you're playing, and this game does just that through HD.

The visuals are complimented by a varied soundtrack that actually quite surprised me, but sadly it wasn't quite memorable as the iconic platformers of old. Keep in mind though, I didn't say how the soundtrack surprised me. Sure, each individual land provides its own unique music, however none of it is very memorable to the point where you'd see...ahem, hear yourself humming the tune. It's more of a hodge-podge of electric synths and guitars fitted with a more Persian/Arabian personality.

There's a lot to like about Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, a humorous storyline, beautiful graphics, and gameplay control that is solid as a rock. Without a doubt, this game checks many of the boxes that make up a phenomenal platformer, but while it checks many of them, it doesn't check them all. For instance, there are familiar faces that you'll encounter throughout your journey, but there aren't as many new experiences as I had hoped there would be. When you also take into account that there is a fairly limited amount of levels and that you'll spend more time replaying levels to unlock everything, and some may believe that WayForward seems to come up a bit short when it comes to packing content into this game (Super Mario Bros had 8 main levels). That being said, this game is truly amazing though. To see how something that was born from crowd funding that has blossomed into a fantastic platformer series is pretty neat. Would I spend $19.99 to buy Shantae: Half-Genie Hero? Despite the faults, yes I would, and so should you.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Steel Rain X

Having been born in the late 70's I've had the pleasure of growing up throughout the different variants of gaming for over 30 years. There is one genre though that seems to stay as constant as the North Star, and that would be the side scrolling shooter games. Back in the day we had classics like R-Type that showed us what an alien onslaught looked like and how to upgrade our ship to do incredible things. These types of games were the foundation of what we know today. Developer Polarity Flow has released Steel Rain X on the Xbox One for the price of $9.99, and my biggest question to this would be does it do enough to revitalize the genre to warrant its' price tag?

The story of Steel Rain X is one we have seen countless times before. Humanity has collapsed and we must seek to the stars to ensure our survival. Along the journey, multiple frigates come into contact with an alien species named the Xenox (not to be confused with the copy company Xerox). Hopeful of peaceful contact, humans were caught off guard and out of the three Frigates that were dispatched only one survived the attack by the Xenox. This lone Frigate escaped to an isolated planet where scientists manage to find a way to adapt and utilize the enemy weaponry for human use. From here this weapon became an adaptable starship, and at the same time, humanity's last hope for survival. While this may sound intense for a story, the way it's laid out before you in the game itself is rather disappointingm but the plus side though is that these types of games never focus on their stories at all and instead focus on screen filling action, which I'm happy to say is the case here, despite a few hiccups along the way.

The controls take some getting used to. The Left Stick moves your ship around while the X, Y, and B buttons all correspond to your ship's firing formation, which are aptly named A, B, C. Your Right and Left Bumper, along with Left Trigger, all utilize power-ups that you collect throughout the mission or purchase from the store. Each firing mode offers its own identity in terms of firing pattern, strength, armor piercing abilities, and more. Throughout the missions, as you collect the various color upgrades, your ship and it's corresponding firing pattern will grow and intensify. Once you have the firing positions down though, you'll quickly find various colors will become your preferred choice.

Now that we've established that there will be a learning curve with the controls, let's talk about the learning curve with the real soul of Steel Rain X, the RPG elements. Imagine incorporating an element that would be reminiscent of Sim City in a side scrolling shoot 'em up game and that's what you have here. Once you beat the 3 stages on a planet you can send down a probe to colonize it (for a small fee of course). When the probe lands you will see the space open up to you and this is the land from which you will have to work with. Once colonized, you must first build housing for your civilians and then you will need power, so you will end up building a power plant. Once you have these two amenities you can start to look into developing other buildings such as a science lab, trade depot, manufacturing plant, and so much more. Through here you'll have to manage power consumption, resource development, and research progress.

There are a few tips I learned after playing for a while and that is start by focusing on building trade depots and science buildings. The reason for this is that Steel Rain X has a massive 3 column upgrade system that takes time to upgrade each node, and the more science buildings you have, the less time each upgrade takes. I managed to get one of the top tier nodes from 2 hours and 30 minutes down to just 12 minutes. But there is a problem that I found in the game, and that is the fact that the countdown timer is not accurate. Every second in the game is equivalent of 2 seconds in real life, so if you read that it takes 9 min to upgrade a node, expect 18 minutes of real time instead. There are a few other issues with the construction as well. Sometimes I would have 8/12 civilians assigned to a task, I'd build a trade depot which costs me 2 civilians, so now I'm at 10/12 assigned. I would destroy the trade depot and I would still show 10/12 assigned and some options that require more civilians were blanked out. This happened on more than one occasion and it appears that the game has a hard time even managing its own resources.

Another gripe that came into both the researching and the building menu is the pin point blue dot that is used as your selecting tool. This small dot is about the size of a point of a pen, really, it is, and it moves around the screen INCREDIBLY slow, so once you've found your dot, moving it to where you want is a chore on its own. The same goes for the research screen, however the background and the majority of the colors in this screen are the exact same color as this minuscule blue dot, so finding it is next to impossible, and once you find it, maneuvering the dot to select what you want to research is a straight up pain. I wish I could say that this is the end of it, but it's not. Not by a mile.

There are other options to pursue such as upgrades that you can purchase with coins, or building prototypes to help improve your ships, and even trading resources to buy Xenox materials for advanced weaponry. You can naturally setup your own self-sustaining system through proper building, but any and all upgrades will come only when you level up your cores, and even then you're forced into the research trees to gain access to the top tier upgrades. My issue here is trading. When you start trading you can select how much material you want; however, you cannot pick just 1 for whatever reason. You press right on the D-Pad and the numbers start to skyrocket almost instantly. I think the lowest I could ever select was 2, so plan on taking a very long time to try and fine tune just how much you want to trade. I found this process very tedious and worthless when I started to form camps that were self-sustaining.

After going through the various menus I dove into the campaign missions since my only other options were Arcade and Survival. It was here that I saw that the graphics of Steel Rain X weren’t groundbreaking beautiful, but they definitely weren’t a total disaster. Most of the time I found myself too caught up in dodging screen filling enemy fire to concentrate on the mediocre backgrounds or the decent model for the enemy ships and their variants. The sound though was nothing but a synth heavy techno blast of looped sounds that drove me up the wall. Listen, I get that they were looking for energy, but this was just way too much. I ended up turning the music down completely. It's a shame but sadly the graphics and sound don't do much to help this game along.

One aspect that I found well done was the difficulty slider that ranged from 1-10 which dramatically changed the entire feel and experience of Steel Rain X, and then if that weren't enough, the game offers up a Hardcore mode for that extra "oomph" when it comes to throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you. There were other touches as well that stood out, such as the ability to select either the main story missions, orbital patrol missions, side missions, your upgrades and more, all from the mission screen. This was a blessing because I didn't have to start switching in and out of many different menus and the mission screen acted as an almost secondary hub to the hangar.

A mixed bag of both good and bad, Steel Rain X tries to bring a new evolution into the world of shoot 'em up side scrolling games with its take on the RPG elements. Sadly, while the idea was well conceived, the execution could have been better. That being said, would I pay $9.99 for this? Of course I would. Like a kitten that is "not so cute" at birth, Steel Rain X is one of those games that you know is faulty and flawed, but it provides so much enjoyment that you can't help continue playing with it. For the price it's a fairly good value for money, and if you like shoot 'em up games then this title is most likely calling your name.

Overall Score: 7.4 / 10 Sky Force Anniversary

Growing up in arcades when I was younger, my quarters loved to find the machines that were classic top down scrolling shooters. I would waste hours upon hours shooting for top scores (editors note: pun intended), stacking quarters on the side for next game, etc. I had a chance to relive those glorious moments of my yesteryear with Sky Force Anniversary, out now on the Xbox One.

Originally released in 2004 by Infinite Dreams, Sky Force has seen numerous releases on numerous platforms throughout the years it has existed, and then in 2014 Sky Force Anniversary launched, and it too has seen release on various platforms.. Now almost 3 years later, this top down shooter comes to the Xbox One for the low price of $9.99. So after a decade, is there enough polish on this release to warrant a purchase?

Over the many, many years of gaming, top down shooters have always been sort of a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and when certain releases come out that are done incredibly well, they are herald as a resurrected force for many childhood memories. When Sky Force launched it received much praise for its quality work, and thankfully we see this here today as well with the "Anniversary" edition.

Sky Force Anniversary essentially boils down to you fighting a bad guy in a very big plane, but to get to him you'll need to tackle 9 levels of increasing intensity first. These games have really never been much about story and plot lines, but rather focused on screen filling action, a tense white knuckle grip on the joysticks, and the repeated smashing of the fire button. Thankfully Sky Force Anniversary does just that in spades. This is in part to the control layout which is very easy to pick up and play.

There is an opening sequence that will get you acclimated to Sky Force Anniversary's controls and mayhem. The Left Stick controls your ship while the Right Trigger fires your weaponry, and so on. This means that you don't have to split your focus between a screen filled with laser fire and a series of confusing and complicated menus. From there you'll see that the first level helps get you adjusted to the unending repetition that you will find throughout the rest of the game. Sky Force Anniversary is built around the premise that you shoot everything you can, then scroll forward and do it some more. You keep this simplistic pattern going until you come across an end boss, or the end area of the level, then you rinse and repeat. While some would say that this would be incredibly boring, I'd almost say that I agree with you; however, you soon realize that Sky Force Anniversary will hook you like a drug. Let me explain why.

See, most companies have issues creating a game that offers replayability, especially in this genre. This is why a lot of successful shooters are focused only on multiplayer, because you have to find a way to keep gamers playing even after they beat the main game. Sky Force Anniversary's hook is that it somewhat forces you to collect stars throughout your levels which act as your currency to spend on upgrading your ship. This means you can replay missions over and over again if they yield a high star output and you can then start building and crafting your ship and its upgrades into an incredible force of power. This feature plays right into the game's own trophy system where each level rewards you for certain things, like rescuing all the people in a level, destroying 100% of the enemies in a level, or even avoiding any damage in a level. While tasks that seem menial at first will quickly become very challenging should you decide not to upgrade your ship. However, in the middle of this, there is an issue or two to be dealt with.

One of the big issues with the upgrade system is the system itself. Let me give you an example. Let's say you want to put side guns on your craft (everyone loves more guns). Well that's great but it will set you back 900 stars to put them on. Then if you want to upgrade them you have to start paying in incremental increases of stars. The first upgrade will set you back 90, then 135, then 180, and so on, and by the time you get that stat maxed out, you will have sunk numerous hours just doing the same thing in tremendous repetition. When you factor all the upgrades themselves, and their initial start cost, and then upgrade cost, Sky Force Anniversary will have you hooked for weeks if you want to upgrade everything. But even though you'll be grinding harder than Miley Cyrus, you'll at least be having and enjoyable experience. This is thanks to the whole "Anniversary" touch.

As we've come to expect in today's world, when a company throws around the words like "Anniversary" you get the sensation that things might be improved upon. We saw inklings of this when games like Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary released, and Sky Force Anniversary is no different. There is a tremendous amount of visual improvement to where Sky Force is quite visually stunning. Even though there are only 9 levels, each one is done with a beautiful coat of paint and overhaul. This treatment also continues to every facet of the game, from the aircraft to weapon effects, all of which deserves high praise, for it truly is tremendous work. To accompany this graphical accomplishment Sky Force Anniversary sports an energetic, blood pumping, electronic, retro synth heavy soundtrack that will pulse throughout every mission and help keep the intensity driving.

For $9.99 there's no question that Sky Force Anniversary is a highly welcomed game on the Xbox platform. Infinite Dreams has done a great job providing quality entertainment that will literally make any extra time you thought you had disappear. Although I wish there were more variety within the game, overall Sky Force Anniversary is a must have game if you enjoy these classic top down shooters and it is a one of the better investments you can make for $9.99 on the Xbox One.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Furi

You awaken to find yourself locked in a prison and doomed to be tortured for all eternity. You struggle to break free only to realize that in order to gain your freedom you must press onward until you finally escape. This is the vague opening to Furi, an title developed by The Game Bakers. Priced at $19.99(USD), this indie game seems like a mix of Tron, Afro Samurai, and El Shaddai all rolled up into one intense and explosive boss fight after another. So can this indie title slash a hole in your wallet, or are there better places where you can spend your $20?

You should know that Furi is setup like a multi-staged boss fight. Similar to the very core that we've seen even from old movies such as The Game of Death, Furi begins with you imprisoned for some unknown reason and all you observe is your jailer reveling in their joy of torturing you repeatedly. You feel that all hope is lost when all of s sudden, out of nowhere comes a character dressed like they are straight out of an Alice in Wonderland movie on bad acid trip. Somehow he seems to free you, effortlessly, and also arms you with a sword that, when wielded in your hands, becomes a charged blade of pure energy. As you stagger slowly to your feet your told that you have to go and kill your Jailer, and that's when the game unfolds before you.

You learn that the prison you currently inhabit is but one of 12 prisons that have been put in place to prevent your escape. With that in mind, I should warn you that you should be prepare yourself to die, a lot. Furi is nothing more than a simplistic hack and slash game that has been stripped to its core to provide an incredibly frustrating experience, yet it is an incredibly rewarding one all at the same time. Each boss battle is setup in an identical manner. While the attacks vary in style, force, and other areas, the similarities equate to a simple test of your ability to press the right buttons at the right time. Oh, but it's not so simple. As you progress you'll rapidly become in love with your dodge ability, and if you want to have any chance at success you will have to learn how to parry, almost constantly.

Thanks to a very simplistic control scheme, Furi becomes more of a reflex exercise. You'll start out by walking incredibly slow between each encounter and during this time if you press the A button you will auto walk. This can cut down on the tediousness of each stroll as you can literally just set the controller down for your brief moment of Zen, but there are some instances where walking on your own can be a benefit. Granted it will take what seems like eternity to move at a snail's pace, but there are achievements that can be earned and an essentially meaningless dialogue to be heard, but once you've walked your way to the arena, it's time to fight.

Each boss fight begins with your character, and the opposing boss, having a health bar, and below this health bar you'll see small squares which I simply regard as lives. The rules are simple; attack the boss until their health bar is depleted and they will lose one of their 'life' squares. Once all the lives are gone the battle is over. Things seem simple on the outside, however, when you dive deeper into the game you'll see an exponential learning curve that will constantly alter and adapt to your current boss fight. What I mean by this is that your opponent at the time will change up attacks and expand their arsenal, so you must also adapt on the fly. For example, should you lose a life, you will start with full health on the boss stage you were just in, so if you die on the boss' 3rd life stage, then that's where you start again with both of you having full health. Given how many times your character will die; you'll be thankful for this.

Despite all the simplicity of the game, Furi looks beautiful. As I mentioned earlier, Furi looks like a hybrid of Tron, Afro Samurai, and El Shaddai all wrapped into one beautiful package. Each level is very well is done in its own unique beautiful way including those times when you find yourself making meaningful progress between fights. During these moments you'll also be treated to an electronic, energetic score that helps keep the energy up, where it needs to be, but yet it is not so overpowering or in your face. Granted the voice acting is far from entertaining, but the overall feel of both graphics and sound are true experiences in their own right.

So after all this, is Furi worth the $19.99 price tag? Sadly, I'm going to say no. When you break it down you're paying $19.99 to go on 12 boss fights and that's it. Nothing more, nothing less. 12 fights for 20 bucks. When you couple that with a tremendously lackluster story, some of the slowest walking in gaming history, and the sheer shallowness of Furi itself, I'd say a better price would be $14.99 tops, or a must buy at $9.99. If you're looking for a game that will give you ample frustration mixed with tremendous excitement, then Furi could be on your list. Don't get me wrong, Furi is a beautiful game to behold that can be a frustrating one to play, and it is a satisfying one to master, but the price of admission seems a bit too high for what you get as a whole package.


Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 Steep

Picture yourself riding in a helicopter through the Alps up to the summit of The Matterhorn. As you disembark from the helicopter you feel, and hear, the crunch of the fresh powdery snow beneath your boots. Your helicopter disperses and there you are, alone on the top of the mountain listening to the wind howl you feel your adrenaline start to pump. Off in the horizon you see the sun start to creep above the horizon and you watch as the mountains in the Alps twinkle like diamonds as their snow catches the sun's rays for the first time. You check your wingsuit one last time, say a quiet prayer, take a deep breath, and then you jump into the expansive world of Steep.

This is the world that Ubisoft Annecy have painstakingly worked to create, and like the mountain range itself, upon first look it can be a bit overwhelming. Sectioned off in a specific part of the Alps, Steep combines some of the most iconic mountains such as Mont Blanc, The Matterhorn, and more into one titanic snow filled sandbox. Priced at $59.99(USD), Steep prides itself on giving you full control over the mountain while delivering one exhilarating experience after another. However, Steep also aims to deliver an incredible simulation experience instead of an over the top arcade adventure. So, is Steep the winter wonderland playground you've always dreamed about or does fall like an avalanche speeding down the side of a mountain?

If you're expecting some form of story within Steep then you're going to be sadly disappointed. Steep is broken up into numerous events scattered throughout the mountain range, but first you must go through the tutorial which can be incredibly vague at times making you become part snowboarder and part Sherlock Holmes when it comes to figuring out what to do next. Events take place over four categories, which are snowboarding, skiing, wing suiting, and paragliding. Each of these events come with varying difficulties as well as tasks that you must complete to achieve either bronze, silver, or gold medals. There are some randomly scattered story missions that don't really pertain to any locked in plot structure; they almost feel like they are called "story" just to say that there are story elements within the game.

One thing you'll discover as you navigate through the tutorial is the simple fact that mission selection is one of the most complex and annoying tasks you will find in any game to date. To access the mountain overview you have to hold the B button down which will result in a spatial view of the Alps. Here you trudge through using a small disc selection tool that allows you to navigate all over the mountains and select items from your own trail to events and more. Again, this sounds good until you go through it and realize that it's aggravatingly slow and cumbersome. You would think that there would be a button you could press to bring up a list of available events that you've uncovered and that you could sort them by event type, difficulty and more, but you'd be wrong. Instead you start to almost feel like Ray Charles trying to navigate the mountains just to find one simple run to click on. I could easily see this being perfect for those who use a mouse on a PC, but on the Xbox One controller this is an incredible pain that will stay with you throughout your entire Steep experience.

Once you have a small understanding of how the mission system works you'll need to find more runs within the mountain range. In order to find various other locations on the mountain to unlock you must press LB to bring up your binoculars and then spend a ridiculous amount of time looking along the mountain range until you hear a chime and see a series of dark grey stripes which indicate a new event zone. Once you have found a location you have to zoom it into focus with your binoculars and pray that you're close enough to unlock it, but if not, then you'll have to find a way to get close enough. I found that an easy way to do this was, while you're in binocular mode, press the RS and create a user generated point of interest. I learned to do this after I found a zone but was too far away and I decided to paraglide towards it, but ended up forgetting where it was when I landed. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself so let's get back to the tutorial.

The tutorial is also a prime way to get you used to Steep's simulation and physics engines, which at times will make you want to smash your virtual snowboard in two, or cut your own lines on your paraglider. This is thanks to the g-forces that the game tries to judge and simulate on your rider, which sounds good in theory, but it fails miserably in execution. Numerous times I would be riding down the mountain and go over a small jump and my character would crash from the simulated g-force. There were even times when I went over a small patch of mountain that was smooth but not snow covered and instantly my g-force meter went off the charts and my character seemed to get hit with MAX G's as he seemingly collapsed and crashed down the mountain. Now, I can understand something like that should I be boarding down a mountain side at full speed and slam right into a tree, but a little textured patch shouldn't cause the same impact. I can comprehend why someone would think programming a g-force detection system would be a good idea, but I can also discern why something like this needs to be perfected in order to be of any use.

Steep does allow you to try to pull of some tricks; however, the physics engine is unpredictable at best and at its' worst it is name swearing bad. Everything seems tranquil and simplistic on the surface, but when you get into the depths of the controls you're in for a totally different ride. For example, if you want to jump you're required to hold down the RT to crouch and prepare for a jump, then when you hit a designated distance from the lip of the jump you're supposed to release the RT and your character, in theory, will take off from the powder and launch skyward into the air. This is singlehandedly the biggest problem with Steep, as the the area you need to release RT varies between jumps and there's no setting to select where you could have such zones included as part of your HUD. This would have solved a lot of problems, but since it's not included you essentially have to play a guessing game that ends in one of three ways. Either you miraculously hit your jump and soar through the air majestically, you time your jump early and go right into the jump itself crashing away, or the 3rd result is that you time your jump late and end up not jumping at all and just sort of fall over the ramp and crash into the mountain below.

Should you somehow make it into the air on a jump you can do tricks with the LS by pressing it left, right, up, or down. You will start to rotate or flip, but you have to make sure you time your release of the LS otherwise you'll go crashing into the snow below. Should you feel risky and decide to add a grab into the jump, just hit your LT or RT while in the air and you should grab the board, but as would be expected, you need to time your release otherwise, you guessed it, you crash. So, now that I've established the fact that jumping and doing tricks are about as easy to do as walking on water, and that the g-force meter is not well implemented, you can see the trend here. If you fail at almost anything you do then you'll end up a rolling ball of snow. Not really a shining beacon of enjoyment considering this is the game's primary function.

Steep is somewhat salvaged though thanks to the replay function it incorporates. Should you careen to your death you can just retry over and over and over again. Another bonus of this feature is that it's instant, so there isn't any loading that has to take place over and over again. I can honestly say that if it weren't for this feature I'd given up a long, long time ago. Get ready to repeat and retry more than you ever thought you could because even when you think you have the learning curve mastered Steep will always find a way to keep you on your toes and remind you that the mountain always wins.

Ubisoft Annecy has included seamless drop in and drop out multiplayer and surprisingly it works well. It works so flawlessly that during one play session I hit the replay function only to discover that at the beginning of my run someone else was standing literally on my head. While this is a nice concept, and I'm glad that it's included, I find that enjoying the mountains alone is perfect for me. And when I say enjoying the mountains that's because Steep is simply beautiful to look at and behold.

From standing on top of a mountain you can change the time of day with the d-pad, and every visual element is done with a masterful precision to detail. The lighting and snow effects are on a level never before experienced, and you can tell that this is where the bulk of the performance went to, and I'm actually thankful that they did this. Pulling up and stopping while on a snowboard and watching the powder spray and the small packets of snow trickle down from your landing area that carve out their own paths is incredibly life like.

Unfortunately the same can't be said for the soundtrack. Right from the opening screen the sound effects gives Steep an aura of majesty. It hits you that you're about to go one on one with a mountain that has claimed countless lives, so be ready. This ambience is incredible and then it all goes downhill when you hear the tunes that have been selected to play in-game. While the ambient soundscapes provide a wonderful backdrop, hearing the same tune repeated over again when you hit the replay function on any of the events drove me up the wall so much so that I ended turning the sound off.

Steep is a beautiful package that unfortunately, once opened, gives you more hassle and trouble than you may imagine. If you're thinking of trying to get gold medals on every challenge I wish you the best of luck because you're going to need it. While not most of the gameplay itself is far from perfect, Steep is the genesis of extreme snow experiences from Ubisoft Annecy. A revamped g-force system, tweaked physics engine, improved handling and better UI are some of the major things that hamper the gameplay experience. If they can make changes and improvements in these areas it could really bring Steep to a quality similar to those found in other simulation sports games. It's clear though that Ubisoft Annecy has potential to deliver an amazing gameplay experience, so I'm hopeful that we see more improvements from Steep in the future.

Suggestions:
1. Revamp the g-force system.
2. Tweak your physics engine.
3. Improve the handling.
4. Please make a better UI.
5. Look into ironing out minor glitches and bugs.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Dwarves, The

Action RPG games, if done right, can provide countless hours of joy and entertainment. THQ Nordic has tossed its hat into this ring with their latest attempt called The Dwarves. Priced at just under $40 plus tax, The Dwarves walks a fine line between overpriced budget beater and something that feels like it needs a bit more time to iron out the kinks and make the game better. I thought to myself, "Oh we got Dwarves, Elves, and Orcs, so this should be at least decent given all the quality source material to use as inspiration." And then I played the game and realized that sometimes, even with a multi-billion dollar, award winning blueprint to inspire you, like the Dwarves themselves, that THQ Nordic struggled to deliver as I'd hoped. Let me explain.

Dwarves starts out as a classic Orc versus Dwarf battle for passage through the gates of Girdlegard. It's during this first battle that you come to grips with the game's control, and I'm sorry to say it isn't that impressive. On the bottom left of the screen you will see not only your health, but your power meter as well. This is the meter which you draw upon to activate your abilities. You'll learn quickly since there really is no tutorial that your X button will become your best friend. I almost married mine. The X button allows you to pause the game to input your commands, so right away you can see some real time strategy elements playing throughout the game. Then you have to use the D-pad to select your ability and it's here that you'll notice a required number of points that your skill deducts from your power meter. But the simplicity continues.

For example, your standard command input will go as follows. You use the Left Stick to navigate to your enemy, then when you are up close you press X to pause the time, then select which ability you want to use on the D-pad. You'll then press the A button to accept your command choice and press X to resume time in the game and watch your actions unfold. The B button acts as your cancel button should you need it, but one thing to consider is that friendly fire is on. So when you hit your leap ability to jump deep into the nest of Orcs, just remember should any fellow allies be within your landing, you will cause damage to them as well. There's no option for turning this off but thankfully your health can naturally regenerate over time, so long as you're not getting hit. The control scheme doesn't have an attack button because the Dwarves will automatically attack their enemies if they are within range, which is disorienting considering you almost have to stand still if you wish to deal any damage at all to your opponents.

With your regular melee attacks dealing only so much damage, Dwarves focuses on your ability to manage your power meter through your use of your abilities. These abilities can consist of a mighty swing of the Axe that clears the line of foes in front of you by knocking them back, or jumping into the fray by landing with a thud that causes damage to everyone in the surrounding area and knocks them down as well. These abilities all take a certain amount of power from your meter and thankfully you can recharge the meter by causing damage, killing an opponent, or just simply wait while it charges back up. When you start to gather your party together you can also use the Left and Right Bumpers to switch in between your other members and cue up any abilities they may have. Your Right Trigger and Stick control the camera and zoom of the game, but that's something I'll touch on here in a moment.

Now that you’re up to speed on the control mechanics, I have to say that it's unfortunate that the plot leaves a lot to be desired. The Alfar, who are essentially evil Elves, have teamed up with the Orcs and they forcibly assault the gates of Girdlegard, and after ages and ages of the door holding fast, it's opened. Now the Orc armies rage war over the various lands and their inhabitants. You play the role of Tungdil, who is a Dwarf but was raised up by humans. During this upbringing you were taught how to read and write, so even though you may be married to a forge, Tungdil loves to learn about everything. Early on you are sent out on a quest and throughout your journeys you come into contact with around 50 distinct characters. Over time you can build up your own team of up to 12 companions which will make fighting the ceaseless hordes of Orcs that much easier, however, being that this is based off the series of books by a German author named Markus Heitz, you get the sensation that the story seems rather drawn out.

The reason I say this is because when you play The Dwarves, you will easily notice how colossal the map truly is. All the areas to explore and places to travel will open up their secrets over time but you'll spend most of the time moving from point to point making choices. This is why I STRONGLY recommend you save a LOT. Sometimes choices you make may or may not have unintended consequences. Saving also helps should you encounter a battle you can't seem to pass and you need to reload and chose a different path choice. The game does Auto Save, however, not often enough and if you're not careful you could lose a lot of progress.

Now even though the map may be enormous, the visual representation of the lands and the characters themselves are done surprisingly well. That is until you decide to move the camera or the characters and the screen will start to tear. What really struck me by surprise was how the loading screens in the beginning few stages experienced a screen tear that had a yellow streak going from the top right corner to the bottom left corner (the loading screen is also rather lengthy I may add). Aside from the numerous screen tears, when the game switches into a cutscene you see some wonderfully detailed figures, however, the graphics engine can't handle it and it starts to almost look like stop motion animation than smooth and textured CG. I found in terms of the audio that I was pleasantly surprised with the music as the soundtrack seemed to catch my ear then hold my attention throughout the game itself. I also found myself enjoying the voice acting and while there were moments that felt overplayed, the overall voice acting was a solid win for this game.

Having devoted lots of hours into this game I can say that The Dwarves provides a lot of content, but not a lot of meaningful content. It is definitely a game that will drain hours upon hours of your life away, but I felt that the more I played it, the less I actually wanted to. The story never fully grasped me. When I think about it, I spent about 70% of my time moving between points on a map, about 20% of my time watching loading screens, 8% of the time exploring and fighting, and about 2% of the time I was watching cutscenes. At the end of the day I wish The Dwarves would have improved the story, fixed some of the visual mishaps, and improved the loading issues, because I was hoping I could score this higher, but given some of the hiccups with the game I think you can find better gaming out there for the price of this one. Only die-hard fans of the genre need apply.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Darksiders: Warmastered Edition

Since the birth of man there have been tales of Heaven and Hell and the battle that is supposedly waiting to commence. The now defunct publisher THQ originally started their tale of this conflict with the game series Darksiders. Released almost seven years ago, Darksiders was a game that took people by surprise and it became a sleeper hit that rapidly developed a large cult following. Even though it wasn't marketed with the same steamrolling style as Battlefield, Call of Duty, Mass Effect, Halo, or any other triple A games, an overwhelming majority of those who played it will say they absolutely loved it given it's original story and main protagonist. Former publisher THQ had a hit on their hands.

Now, after a tumultuous past few years, with the closing of THQ and the formation of THQ Nordic, we have seen the reintroduction of the Darksiders series on the Xbox One. Oddly enough the sequel, Darksiders II, was released before the original, but hopefully the added capital gained during this time will mean more amazing things for the future of this I.P. Being that I didn't do the original review I must confess that this will be my viewpoint in this writing. Clocking in at $19.99 THQ Nordic has already hit a massive goal and I'll get to that in a minute, but for now, on to the review.

For those who have never played Darksiders before it tells the tale of the fragile truce between Heaven and Hell and the Charred Council who preserve the balance and peace between realms. During this time a 3rd kingdom emerged, which was the kingdom of man. Eager to gain an advantage in the celestial struggle, both sides fight with humanity stuck in the middle to suffer. This is when the Charred Council stepped in and sealed a truce between the realms and solidified it with 7 seals, and if these seals were eventually broken they would summon forth the call of the riders of the apocalypse who would descend upon the Kingdom of Man and judge both Heaven and Hell accordingly.

That is the premise to Darksiders, and in this original installment you get to play as War. He is one of the four summoned riders of the apocalypse, but there is a problem. According to the Charred Council the seventh seal hasn't been broken and War has apparently acted on his own as he was sent to the Kingdom of Man. To atone for his sin War must lay siege to the 'Destroyer' who has already started attacking humanity. How could a rider be summoned if the seals weren’t broken? Why would a call come forth if the balance was still kept? Who would try to manipulate the riders of the apocalypse and for what reason? These are but some of the questions that will be answered in the story, which is why it should never be spoiled for fresh eyes. Trust me, you'll thank me later.

One of the reasons that Darksiders became such a hit is the gameplay mechanics. Using a straightforward but simplistic layout, Darksiders manages to bring a solid feel to the game experience. Sure, you have your basic hack and slash attacks, but the ability to switch from auto-locking onto an enemy to independently targeting the field in front of you, allowing you to freestyle hack at anything that moves near you, can all be done seamlessly with very little jarring between transitions, making abilities easy to use through your sub-menus. These powers not only require something called wrath to utilize, but look absolutely devastating, but I'll touch on that in a moment. The gameplay is enhanced by some light RPG elements where you can upgrade your move set, weapon damage, health, wrath, etc. Despite having to get used to the camera all over again, these elements combine to make Darksiders an enjoyable experience from beginning to end.

Now, Darksiders plays well, but one aspect that will stand out simply because of its quality is the voice acting. War comes off as a stoic judge of righteousness who will always get to the point in a conversation. However, throughout the game you will encounter demons and angels that help bring this whole story to life in a way that was absolutely incredible given the game is almost seven years old. Speaking of the audio, War's demon companion is voiced by the legend Mark Hamill who does his iconic Joker voice and it fits the demon, and his mannerisms, brilliantly. Now, this game wears the title Darksiders Warmastered Edition and that is because THQ Nordic has released Darksiders with one massive overhaul, which is in the graphics.

Running now at 1080p 60fps this classic adventure masterpiece simply looks stunning. While the original was wonderful, this is a remaster that can be seen as setting the standard for how upgrading graphics should be done. New textures seem to blanket this game and the character modeling artwork really shines through in the higher resolution. One thing that did sort of strike me as odd though is that while the characters and overall graphics got a major steroid injection, the buildings found throughout the game seem unchanged, and it is almost like they don't fit or belong in this 'remastered' Darksiders world. While this minor detail is a setback, the new special effects found in using War's powers more than compensates for it.

Earlier on I said that THQ Nordic already hit a massive goal. Releasing a game that is almost seven years old, with the only major work being a graphic overhaul, the price had better properly reflect this fact, and for the Darksiders: Warmastered Edition it does. Worried that some other companies have released less and charged more, THQ Nordic have priced this gem at a sweet spot to solidify it as a must have. Yes, I know there is absolutely no extra content of any kind, and that only the visuals have received a facelift while the audio and gameplay feel untouched. The thing is though, THQ Nordic probably stared at the original game and thought if it works so well why should we mess with it? Undoubtedly, this Darksiders remastered game is most likely the best $19.99 you can spend on the Xbox One at this moment as you'll get a lot of enjoyment out of a game that is solid all around.

Suggestions: A complete overhaul of all audio elements would be nice, but it is not particularly necessary.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Watch Dogs 2

I'll say it, I loved the original Watch Dogs game. I know that this may start throwing some of you into an internet rage, but tough, it is what it is. Now Ubisoft has come out with its sequel, Watch Dogs 2, and not only has the location switched up, but so has the main character along with almost everything else. Now how can you change almost everything and expect to produce something of quality again? Does this new sequel pull off the "lulz" or should this be one to avoid?

As I just mentioned, I liked the original Watch Dogs game. I thought the story that was played out had merits of meaning and substance and centralized around a plot that had a beginning, middle, and end. In Watch Dogs 2 I don't get that same feeling. Gone are the meaningful nuances throughout the plot and instead replaced with a generic "I'm angry at the world" style hacktivism. Instead of something that would be fit for an intellectual audience it feels more like a student protest group gone wrong than a dedicated character trying to advance a goal through his objectives. This detachment from what we've expected from the original is light-hearted in tone, which is actually quite depressing considering the magnitude of the results your character tries to achieve.

Basically in a nut shell the ctOS 2.0 system is up and running and San Francisco is the next breeding ground for data mining citizens to influence their lives. We've seen similar actions just during this past election with Google and Facebook and their users. Google, at one point, completely omitted a candidate from a search and when you look at their parent company Alphabet, as their CEO wanted to be a big player in a major political campaign. You can easily see how Watch Dogs 2 takes cues from events that are occurring in real life, which does make for a fantastic pool of inspiration to draw from, but I never once got the sensation that I was in perilous danger. This is in part because no longer are you working as a lone entity, but you’re now part of a group. Now, you're a part of DedSec.

This is what took me a long time to try and adjust to. When you begin you bear witness to your group, or "crew", of fellow hacktivists, these dainty snowflakes are your typical cliché of upset, emotionally charged, young adolescents that would rather protest the destruction of a type of flower than get a meaningful education. This really set me back because I thought Aiden from the original Watch Dogs was a character of meaning and substance, and I didn't get that feeling of Marcus Holloway (your new main character). I don't think it was his light-hearted attitude that did it, but the fact that your group spends more time trying to offer ways of causing civil disruption and disobedience than actually trying to solve a problem. Let me give you an example.

Watch Dogs 2 would have you believe that exposing the personal files of a bank's CEO would be a justified action given what they saw as the exploitation of the bank's customer base through fees and rates. Of course it's their opinion. However, while everyone has a laugh and thinks everything is great now that these infants exposed a CEO, there's nothing, and I mean NOTHING, in terms of offering up a solution to what now becomes a massive problem for its citizens. This is when it dawned on me that this group is only a messenger. A group that is designed to deliver information to the masses that they may or may not be privy to. This is good, however, for a system like this to be effective at all there needs to be a contingency plan in place to take effect if and when it needs to be put into motion. I think little things like this tend to take away from Watch Dogs 2 and really does the game a great injustice.

The gameplay mechanics have been revamped and feel a bit more complex, which tends to make things a bit tricky when trying to maneuver through a crowded metropolitan city like San Francisco to just trying to find someone to hack. The cover system remains; however, the computer AI still feels as dumb as a rock. There were times when I would knock out an enemy and his fellow guard (standing about 15 feet away) wouldn't see anything. There is one new aspect though that stands out though, and that is your skill trees. This new leveling system is based on followers, because apparently gaining followers (for whatever reason) is one of the most important things in the game. Gaining followers will allow you to gain skill points and allow you to outfit Marcus with new gear and better abilities such as calling off a police helicopter or setting a rival gang out to help you clear a building to (my personal favorite), and even upgrading both your remote controlled drones. In order to gain followers and acquire the skill points you have to complete main and side missions which are found all throughout the streets of San Francisco.

This is a good thing because Watch Dogs 2 is a very pretty game. Such things as running a speed boat at full throttle under the Golden Gate Bridge while the sun was setting and casting a nice warm glow off the water demonstrates how Watch Dogs 2 is an impressive looking sandbox to play in. I wish though I could say the same for the soundtrack though. There are a lot of games that I've had the pleasure of listening to, however Watch Dogs 2 isn't one of them. In fact, I found the music so obnoxious that I actually turned the music volume down and I found myself enjoying the game more that way. These depressions though keep stacking up and that's when we come to one of the biggest setbacks of the game itself. There's currently no working multiplayer.

Yes, I know you thought there would be and you thought you and your friends could just jump into San Francisco and take over, but you're wrong. Ubisoft has decided to pull the plug on the whole multiplayer aspect for now due to the immense amount of problems and issues that arose from it at launch. I'm sorry but that takes away from a majority of the value. There's even an update that is supposed to take place 2016/11/19 and it offers a few fixes, namely the glitch where you would be able to see a female NPC's genitals, but no mention at all about restoring online play. As of 2016/11/22 Ubisoft says they are rolling out partial multiplayer (e.g. in-game Multiplayer App to join and hack into other players worlds), but as of the time of this writing we have not seen this implemented yet.

I was hopeful for Watch Dogs 2, and I know a lot of you will enjoy it tremendously; however, to this reviewer it feels like a cheap GTA knock off that adds in some juvenile characters with little to no emotional value and no multiplayer (as of yet). That doesn't mean that what is there is isn't somewhat enjoyable, because it is. While the game controls are a bit more complex, they still feel responsive, and while the plot and missions are almost meaningless, the fact that they take you through a beautiful city is worth every minute spent. Despite this mixed bag I can say that I foresee many, many hours trying to unlock everything Watch Dogs 2 is hiding behind its digital firewall because that is what you will want to do to get the most out of the game.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Xenoraid

For those who read this and think a PlayStation 2 is an antique gaming platform, bear with me one moment. One of the highlights I remember growing up, in what people know as "The Arcade Days", were the hours upon hours playing classic top down shooters. From the days of Galaga to now, these 2D scrolling shooters have been a warm blanket in the gaming genre. Not trying to be complex with a meaningful story, nor trying to be anything more than just enjoyable. Now developer 10tons has released a game called Xenoraid. Does this top down shooter hit its mark? Let's find out.

Earth has always wondered if they were alone in the universe, pondering the question if anyone or anything is out there. Well, in Xenoraid we finally get our answer. In true 'Independence Day' movie fashion, aliens begin to invade the Earth's space. We try to communicate with them (because that always works in the movies right?), only to find out that these aren't peaceful aliens, or stupid Star Wars Phantom Menace Trade Federation aliens, but they are rather the Samuel L. Jackson hostile anger management type. I've just now made the plot of the game more entertaining than it actually is; you're welcome. The game is set within a series of stages and each stage has up to 10 individual levels. You complete missions and earn coins for completion and can use this 'currency' to upgrade your ships, but there's a bit more to it than that.

You get a total of 4 different fighters to control which are mapped out and assigned to your four face buttons A, B, X, Y. The gameplay mechanics are incredibly simplistic as the Left Stick moves your ship and the Right Trigger fires your primary weapon, with the Left Trigger firing your secondary weapon. The beauty of this is that you are able to select and configure your loadouts how you want to, should you have the coins to purchase it. Upgrades to your primary and secondary weaponry, along with other ships, means you should be ready to spend a lot of coin (see what I did there). But if you think repairing your ships costs a lot of coins it’s not nearly as much as it costs to replenish a defeated ship.

From the beginning you're given a small amount of coins which you can either spend on your ships in terms of individual upgrades and purchases, or you can save them for bigger and better things. You won't have full access to all available perks at the beginning as you will have to unlock them as you complete missions.

The whole entire upgrade system is the reward hook and we all took the bait. It's the reason that you will want to continue the missions no matter how repetitive they may become. See, in most top down shooters the object of the game is to not get hurt, but in Xenoraid the object is to switch out ships to help dodge incoming fire. Have your guns overheated and the screen is filling with enemies quickly? Don't dodge their fire until you can shoot, swap out your fighters and continue the assault. Sadly, though there are issues here, being the control system, and even though it's very simplistic, is very, very soft. There are improvements you can buy to help with this over time, but for the most part it almost feels like you're using 'The Force'. Since you can only fire straight no matter what, you'll start to quickly adore the ship swap feature.

While the sluggish play control is a big setback I should also mention that the campaign cannot be completed in single player mode, but only local co-op. This is a major blow because incorporating an online multiplayer aspect would be incredibly beneficial as it would allow more people to play together thus increasing sales. Not incorporating an online multiplayer system effectively limits your audience. And that isn't just in the single player mode, but the survival mission mode as well. This mode is your only other option for gameplay and is essentially a Horde-like Mode, but in a 2D vertical scrolling shooting game. You're timed as to how many enemies you destroy, time spent alive, and other metrics; however, like the single player, co-op in this mode is local only. Those two things really set this game back a light-year.

Since this 2D vertical scrolling shooter isn't trying to be incredibly realistic, or even highly polished, it's graphics offer what I'll call a rustic charm that was found in these types of games throughout the years and decades before. It's certainly not going to win any artistic awards but at the same time it will provide much nostalgia for those that remember those "The Arcade Days". The soundtrack though is period perfect. That high intensity electronic music almost makes you wish you had quarters to put on the screen to indicate you got next game.

If you're a fan of the 2D vertical scrolling shooting games then Xenoraid will undoubtedly be a must buy for you. Priced now at under $10 this game should be on your radar. Yes, there are some hiccups along the way, such as no story, soft play control, and no online multiplayer connectivity, but the customization and build structure of the game lends itself to hours of enjoyment and fun.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Titanfall 2

Throughout the years EA has strived to publish games that give their audience an incredible gaming experience. Originally launched in 2014, Titanfall set standards that now most top tier first person shooters take inspiration from. With the first release becoming known as an innovative staple in the gaming community, how can Respawn and EA top this? By releasing Titanfall 2 and delivering yet another incredible gaming experience. They always say that if you learn from the mistakes you made then you will grow and develop as a person. So has Respawn learned from its mistakes of the original? I would have to say yes.

The first Titanfall was a purely multiplayer experience and sported a campaign that was essentially more multiplayer maps. It made the game feel as if it was only half finished. This time around Respawn has put a proper campaign into Titanfall 2, and even though it's short lived, the fact that it even exists at all is one instance where Respawn listened to its loudest critics, the gamers. It may not be perfect, but Respawn's primary goal seems to have shifted to include something that most gamers tended to overlook, that being depth. In the original Titanfall there was no emotional attachment to your Titan. You shot and killed people and bots over and over until your Titan was ready to be called in. When it dropped you used it till it was destroyed and then the process repeated. In Titanfall 2 one of the main goals has been to give you that sense of comradery. A bond that you form with your Titan that turns it into something more than a user controlled killing machine, but a friend and companion that just happens to be the size of a small house and packed with enough armaments to put a small crater in the planet.

Titanfall 2's plot begins with your character, Frontier Militia Rifleman Jack Cooper. This soldier has always had a dream of becoming a legendary Titan pilot with his own Titan by his side, so naturally he worked hard to put himself in a position to train for the very role he's always dreamed about (or he could have simply manipulated the system to promote his own selfish goals, but I'll be positive here). Jack finally gets a chance to do a pilot simulation with his instructor and it's here that you learn the subtleties of Titanfall 2's gameplay mechanics. Originally praised for having a gameplay that was as smooth as silk, Respawn went back to work and said how can we make it better. They decided to allow a bit more controller customization and even include an option to allow user controlled inputs from an Xbox Elite controller (another reason of many to own one). All the mechanics you know are back, and this time it feels like the controls have been tweaked a bit to near perfection. Wall running, that naturally happens when you run...at a wall, feels like it takes longer for your character to drop naturally and this is thanks to the increased in speed while in this motion.

You can now cover more ground faster while traversing from wall to wall, and this makes taking on a Titan while you're on foot more of a fair fight. The ability to jump between buildings and gain and decrease your height all while running at a rapid pace means that pilots now have a distinct advantage when playing. Sure, they may not have cool weaponry that's the size of an 18 wheeler, but board a Titan and drop a couple satchel charges and boom, what Titan? You learn all of these skills while in training; however, just as you're about to finally call in your very own Titan, your pilot training simulation ends and you're thrusted back into reality's cold grasp as your squad is mobilized for an offensive fight on a planet called Typhon which has fallen under attack. This is where you get a convoluted story where you don't realize why this planet is being attacked or why you're once again fighting the IMC (Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation). However, once you arrive you realize that things have turned south and have done so in a big way.

Realizing that your team is under attack and that it appears to be an ambush, you barely survive only to watch a critical moment happen that then changes the game permanently. Watching your mentor of the pilot program die right before your eyes, you bear witness as he transfers control of his Titan BT-7274 to you, and now you are officially a Titanfall Pilot. Throughout the game you and your Titan will converse and it's up to you to select what option you want reply with. I have to admit, I wanted to see what all the experiences were so there were numerous times where I restarted the checkpoint just to select the other dialogue outcomes. I was quite surprised at how well this was written and delivered. You can really see a development of a relationship forming throughout the entire campaign, and while some of it is cold and factual, some of it is quite humorous. This whole sequence of events adds so much more depth to what was originally offered in terms of a campaign compared to the original Titanfall, and while there may be moments that leave you asking why and how, the delivery of such a campaign is one that should be well received with the gaming world.

It's rare to see a company actually listen to its customers, but Respawn did, and they also listened to other critiques as well. For instance, gamers thought that the multiplayer experience (which accounted for the entire game) of the original Titanfall actually decreased in enjoyment as there was very little, if anything, to keep going for that actually meant anything. Respawn has hit back with tons of new customizations, and the beautiful thing about this is that you get to experience all of them and try them out in the single player campaign. Yes, your Titan in the single player campaign can wield a massive sword that would make Cloud from Final Fantasy VII jealous. This type of customization means that when you go into your multiplayer experience you will have already tried out numerous loadouts and found one that works for you. The same also goes for your pilot's weapons, as you will have access to a wide, and I do mean wide, variety of weaponry for you to wield. Weapons such as your standard assault rifles and SMGs, to sniper rifles that fire 2 shots at a time, and even varying types of grenades, all of which will allow you find what works best for you while you prep for multiplayer.

Once you start to develop a familiarity with the loadout and weapon systems you'll start to gravitate to a few, and it's from there that you can start to develop your pilot and Titan for multiplayer. It's a multiplayer system that, in my opinion, is damn near perfect in a game. Realizing the statement "if it's not broken don't fix it", Respawn took to task a way of improving something that was great and have created something that will have a lasting impact on multiplayer games in the future. Some of the new items that help improve the multiplayer are tools like the grappling hook, which you can fire at buildings, or even Titans, to latch on and pull yourself towards. You may be saying "why would I want to get pulled towards an enemy Titan?", well because it gives you a chance to syphon off a power core of your enemy, drop a charge or two, jump off, grapple back to your Titan, and in midair detonating the charges while instantly transferring into your Titan where the health you have gotten from the enemy power core is immediately applied and you, then can continue to decimate enemy Titans.

This is just one of the ways you can incorporate your new tech toys in multiplayer, but one aspect that struck me as a bit odd is that the Titan customizable loadouts are now gone, and that feels like a step backwards to me. This really perplexes me; however, in its place you get to choose from 6 different Titans, but be warned that not all Titans are available at the beginning and you will have to play and grind your experience and credits to not only purchase new perks, accessories, and abilities, but also new Titans as well. You'll notice that each one of the six will carry with it not only their own unique style of weaponry, but also a unique core ability that can vary between Northstar, which allows you to hover in the air while raining a barrage of missile warheads at your opponents, to Ion, which has this massive Iron Man type chest blast of energy that decimates all. These unique cores are what keep Titanfall 2's multiplayer feeling more balanced than ever.

Speaking of multiplayer, you'll find game modes that you already know such as Last Titan Standing (5 person teams go head to head and the last Titan that is left alive wins), free-for-all (12 players in a confined area and they battle it out with Titans available, what could go wrong?), Attrition (basic 6 on 6 fight to the end), Capture the Flag (capture enemy flag and return it to base), pilot vs. pilot (which is an 8 on 8 fight that disables the ability to call in and use Titans), and Amped hardpoint (similar to games of conquest where you capture and hold an area, and once obtained it takes longer for the enemy to reclaim it for themselves). There is a new mode which called Bounty Hunt. In this mode you're tasked with not just shooting and killing every enemy you see, but fulfilling tasks and objectives that you have to earn cash for your team. Once you have acquired cash it's then up to you to get it to a stash where you can deposit it. Be careful though because should you get killed while in combat then you're going to lose some of that money.

These gameplay modes more than equate to a solid multiplayer experience that seems to never get old or tiring and that’s in part to the graphics which are absolutely stunning. Even though I have a 4K TV and play it on a day one launch Xbox One console, the game looks beautiful. All the detail that goes into the varying environments showcase the painstaking time Respawn took to make this game not only play masterfully, but look breathtaking. Spending the time exploring each level was wonderful and trying to find new ways to adapt to the level itself was a breath of fresh air. This is complimented by audio that makes you feel every trigger pull, every explosion, and without question, every single incoming Titanfall. The ambient noise helps establish each unique area and when you hear soldiers around you, and having a surround sound system really surpasses all expectations, especially once my Dolby Atmos system is finally finished, as I can't wait to experience something like this. Imagine having the sound field above you from an incoming Titanfall descend upon you and end with a colossal thud as a new crater has been formed from landing.

I actually have to look very hard to find something wrong with Titanfall 2 to knock it, and that's a wonderful thing. Normally gamers are force fed projects that developers produce without paying any attention to their audience, but not Respawn. Titanfall 2 is a near perfect example of what a quality developer can produce when it listens to the feedback of the community, as it delivers a stunning marriage of near perfect gameplay, near perfect multiplayer, and a story that is well...near perfect. I am very confident saying that Titanfall 2 is one of the best games you can play in 2016, period.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Death God University

As indie games go, I try to review them from a 'value-per-dollar' perspective. Some shock me with their low price point and high replay value thanks to their quality. Still, quite a few others fall on the other side of that coin, offering up sub-par to horrifying experiences for a price that would be considered by all to be near theft. Developer DSK Green Ice Games recently released Death God University for the Xbox One and it's priced at $9.99. With a title like that, a game can't be all that bad right, or can it?

Death God University takes place where your character enrolls in, you guessed it, Death God University, where his main goal is to become a Death God Apprentice. He wakes up, puts a huge number of weapons in his backpack, and off to school he goes where he is greeted by the headmaster, the Devil. After surrendering his armament you take control of this character who must go to the classrooms to start his education.

In order get through school your character must complete the mission tasks that your Death God University instructors assign you, including such things as killing high profile people by making it look like they had an "accident". Other missions include stopping a man named Cannibal (who asks you if the lambs have stopped screaming) from selling "strange meat" in his food kiosk, to preventing Miley from literally twerking the planet to death (you confront her in a construction yard with a wrecking ball... seriously). The missions are clever play on words, but sadly all of them require you to do the same exact thing, go to each unlocked area and interact with the highlighted blue item(s) and then combine it with items in your inventory, play a mini game or two, and proceed to the mission ending.

Overall, I found that these missions grew boring fast, and even though there is some clever parody work at play here, there isn't enough uniqueness to keep one's attention, let alone enjoyment. You start to feel that it almost becomes a game where the developers try to blatantly show you how witty they can be instead of trying to create an enjoyable gaming experience. It's actually quite sad when you realize that there is more creativity in the mini games than in the ways to complete the missions themselves, and you start to feel that should be the other way around.

Death God University is broken up into several sections; however, your character is locked out of the areas that serve no use to him in completing his mission, so again you're restricted as to where you can and can't go. Then when you get to your designated area, you can interact ONLY with items that have a neon blue glow, but that is only after you wait over a minute for the level to load.

Once your level loads you'll be able to interact with maps (which allow you to select a different area to load and experience more long load times) or anything that would be deemed a mission item. You can talk to the random NPC's but 99% of the time they offer up worthless information. When you try to obtain mission items you have to be careful not to have people see you do so because theft is bad, and if you are seen the game will deduct from your final grade. This is the crux of the whole game.

When you have 4 areas to explore, don't forget that you're already looking at over 4 minutes of load times. Sound fun yet? It's peculiar why the load times are so long given that each environment isn't that large and the graphics aren't going to blow you away with incredible detail or quality, as Death God University feels like a world of deranged Vinyl POP characters brought to life. I did enjoy some of the musical score, but the sound effects were horrendous. The footsteps while your character 'ninja-runs' for no reason drove me almost literally insane. Outside of the occasional grunt or Halleluiah chant there's no voice acting, and based off the sound effects I'm glad that's the case. And it's not like the gameplay is extensive or complex by any sense of the word.

Your right analog stick controls your camera, while left moves your character, the A button interacts with objects and NPCs, X button brings up your crafting menu where you select your items, and you hit Y to craft. To say that the mechanics are simplified for Death God University is a tremendous understatement. There were times though that I did get stuck while trying to maneuver myself to my target without being detected from others, so while I was happy that I got the object, I had to quit out and restart which meant more incredibly long loading times. You can just hear the excitement coming from my words as I typed that, right?

After going through this game I can't justify spending the $9.99 + tax on it. I could even see this game being a struggle to buy at $4.99. Death God University offers up a weak story filled with repetitive missions that require repetitive actions that require very little problem or skill solving abilities. The game does offer up a somewhat enjoyable music score, but it's horrendous sound effects and graphics have a last generation feel to them. I wish I could tell you that this game was an enjoyable romp through some demented story land, but my enjoyment of Death God University flat lined and it's hard to recommend it to you.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Mark McMorris Infinite Air

I have to admit, I'm a closet snowboard fan. I've never snowboarded in my life, yet since the days of 1080 on the Nintendo 64 I've been hooked. I loved virtually riding from massive jump to massive jump while threading between trees and watching the powder kick up. Recently HB Studios released Mark McMorris Infinite Air, and if you're wondering why the name HB Studios sounds familiar, it's because they created The Golf Club. Priced at $49.99, HB Studios has traded the links for a mountain, so let's see if this game is up to the challenge.

Starting off, Mark McMorris Infinite Air throws you right onto the mountain with a snowboard on your feet and away you go. Having never played this game, or even understood what controls do what, I found myself smashing buttons constantly and crashing nonstop. After some frustrating minutes had passed I pressed start, and low and behold I found a tutorial section and it seemed that all my prayers were answered. Or so I thought.

Given that this game claims to have their tricks based in the world of physics, I found that the tutorial is incredibly frustrating due to the steep learning curve. Some of the basic moves are ok, but when you're talking split second timing and multiple button presses do the same thing, you can really find yourself on the wrong end of a boulder or tree, fast. Having gone through the tutorial, I rapidly became aware to the fact that this is not an arcade style SSX game, but rather it leans towards a more simulation experience. Twists, spins, and grabs were fairly easy to learn, but once you started to try and attempt flips you soon found yourself swearing up a storm. The reason for that is thanks to Mark McMorris Infinite Air's physics and timing the game plays more like Skate due to leaning on more of a realistic feel.

Normally when you're playing an arcade style snowboard game there is usually a crouch or jump button that you leave pressed to not only gain speed but you release it whenever you want to gain full height. Not here. Any amount of time after 1 second will instantly deplete your available power for jumping, which means if you think you're going to hold down LT or RT, or both (buttons you use in tandem with the Right Stick) for an elongated period of time and get full height, you're mistaken. Think of it like a car's power curve. There is a certain apex of power that you must hit in order to achieve maximum speed or horsepower. The way I practiced this absolute vital piece of gameplay was to simply find a flat piece of land and just start jumping. I wasn't moving, I was just jumping and trying to practice how long I had to hold the triggers down to get maximum height.

Once you have attempted to get the mechanics down, it's time to dive into the game itself. The Circuits is this title's campaign section and it is split into six varying "tiers", and each one of them is broken up into four different events with each event having five objectives to complete to unlock new gear for your rider. You'll start with some pretty basic objectives, such as gain so many points, or land a trick worth so many points, etc., and throughout the events you'll experience the many different styles of Mark McMorris Infinite Air. But once you arrive at the end, you'll be racing against another pro, and should you win you unlock the new professional rider, and obviously at the end of it all you'll have Mark McMorris himself to challenge.

Now, I want to shift your focus to what I consider the highlight of Mark McMorris Infinite Air, and that is the World Editor feature. Think of this like a massive open world sandbox where you create your very own mountain to play on. This game packs a ton of features and items to place, and the cool thing is that you can edit this all from the air as you fly a helicopter around to make sure that your mountain is just how you want it. On top of sculpting your unique mountain like an artist, you also have in depth control over the objects within your world. Rotating, scaling, manipulating the tilt and height, and snapping them to the mountain to literally create every single angle you want to be in your world. This is without a doubt the best feature, and mode, in the game itself, and there are some AAA titles that don't offer this much creativity in their world editors. When you've got every flake and angle the way you want it, publish it and let riders all over the world explore and have fun on your own creation.

Now when you have a game that is supposed to be centralized on a scenic environment, Mark McMorris Infinite Air tries hard to deliver such an experience. The environments look very serene, and one thing that stood out a great deal were the lighting effects. Transitioning between heavy forests, where the light slips through the cracks, to a massive jump out in the middle of nowhere while the sun beams down hard as soon as you clear, is just some of the ways the dynamic lighting really makes the graphics shine. Now I did experience some frame rate issues when playing, but nothing that would be considered game breaking. And what about the audio you ask? I'm just going to come out and say it, that I'm not a fan at all of the soundtrack; however what I am a fan of are the sound effects and the ambient sounds of nature that you hear while you're riding. They added to the experience of cutting through the snow. I ended up turning the music off and just enjoying the mountain as it was.

Is Mark McMorris a quality snowboard game? Yes and no. I say yes because it's a dramatic step in the right direction, but I say no because the execution in some instances could use much more polish. It goes without saying though that Mark McMorris Infinite Air by HB Studios offers an incredible amount of replay value through its World Editor, but outside of that you will most likely struggle to find the same type of enjoyment in the other areas of this game.

Overall Score: 6.8 / 10 Reus

Having the almighty power of both creation and destruction in your hands has always been a sure fire recipe to bring about entertaining gameplay for days on end. Back in 2013 Abbey Games released a game called Reus, and now in the twilight of 2016, we finally see its release on the Xbox One. Since the 1980's we have craved the power and have spent days, weeks, and months creating expansive and detailed projects. Now though Abbey Games is asking you to pay $24.99, so is this indie game worth the big price point? Let's see.

On the surface it seems simplistic. Using the four different giants (Water, Earth, Forest, Swamp), it's up to you to create multiple habitable places where your civilization could grow and flourish by simple resource management. As you start spend more time playing, you realize that Reus has far more depth than you initially expected. You'll get a taste of this throughout the training missions, which I highly recommend, but then it'll be up to you to play through your "Eras" which can be timed, or you can even go into a free play style where its sole focus is on creativity which I used to help figure out some of the finer details which will become important. Your initial games are going to be for about 30 minutes a stretch, however, as you progress you'll be able to branch into both 60 and 120 minute Eras that will enable you to unlock more abilities, transmutations, and see more of Reus.

See, when you create your habitable areas you'll need to essentially become a resource manager. You will have to balance certain qualities such as food, technology, wealth, greed, happiness, and more. Thankfully you are able to pause the game and still issue commands to your giants, because of course, you have no control over your people. While each giant possesses their unique abilities, the method in which they interact with abilities from other giants is where REUS' real soul rests. For instance, let's say you have your forest giant plant some blueberries, then you have your ocean giant enhance the blueberries; they then become strawberries. Strawberries produce more food, but offer a bonus of +8 food if you place blueberries next to it. This process is called transmutation and it can be applied to every single resource in REUS which helps when your citizens start building projects that require certain amounts of a particular type of resource.

Now like in all civilizations, once you have wealth and extreme resources, your inhabitants become greedy, and depending on how big of a difference there is between available and used resources, your village could rise up and attack other villages you create to gain their sought after resources, thus wiping out the other village. Now you can stop this if you want, or you can let this play out, the choice is entirely yours. Just remember that your citizens know what your actions are, and while you have to manage their greed along with resources, you also don't want them focusing their anger on you for any reason. Villages will expand over time due to their happiness, which in turn will allow you to create more resources. Now if you wanted to, you can focus on using every single type of giant at once, but I found it much more convenient to hone in on one type of giant and use what abilities I have of the other giants to support its growth.

This way I became accustomed to how certain resources played off each other and how different transmutations in key locations can exponentially increase the amount of resources at your disposal. In fact, I would strongly also advise to play Reus with a pad and paper so that you can keep track of the 20 different minerals you can mine, 40 plants to harvest, and 40 animals to hunt. Each have their own symbiosis and transmutation, and trying to keep all of that information while managing your population is truly a daunting task. Now you heard me mention about completing the training missions, and the reason I highly suggest that is because REUS does very little to explain to you the controller layout along with how to select items, transmute them, etc.

Using the Right Stick to zoom in and out and rotate the planet while using the D-Pad to select various abilities and giants is just part of a complex gameplay management system that has you focusing on various side panels, such as the attributes on the right, and your people's stats on the left. That's not to say that REUS is a bad looking game by any means. Done up in a 2D side scrolling wheeled surface, the ease of navigation is thankfully smooth, which is critical when you start talking about developing areas for habitat. The colorful yet distinct artwork looks beautiful, and even the resources are as individual as the giants themselves, and when combined with a lighthearted soundtrack, Reus becomes a very enjoyable game for many, many hours.

Now as a fan of achievements I'm more than happy to report that going for some of these larger achievements is not only going to take me a lot of time, but be an incredible amount of fun. Reus offers gamers an incredibly deceptive and uniquely in-depth god strategy experience. However, Reus is a bit of a stretch for its $25 price tag, but easily worth $19.99 all day long, so keep an eye out for a sale. If you're a fan of a game that actually gets significantly harder the more experienced you become, then Reus is for you.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Necropolis

When you think of games that test your patience to the point where you can envision a controller flying through your television, games like Dark Souls instantly come to mind. Developer Harebrained Schemes plays upon the very mechanics of that title, one that literally pissed off gamers, yet at the same time made devout followers of those who adored it, and released a game called Necropolis. However, these developers decided to take things to a whole new level with Necropolis, but did they cross the infamous line in the sand? You decide.

Right from the beginning you're going to find that Necropolis is simple, like smash your head into a wall kind of simple. Get from point A to point B, kill everything in sight, and do not die. Let me repeat that that last point: do not die. Harebrained Schemes decided that Necropolis will have the same dungeon crawling adventure style that millions love. However, they were not done there because they thought it would be fun to incorporate similar death mechanics that you can find in Dark Souls. As you progress through each level you can find better weapons, items, and gear, but should you die you will start all the way back at the beginning of the entire game and lose everything.

This really helps to decrease the replay value for one simple reason, as almost everything in this game is either hidden from you or not explained at all. Case in point, take the story. There barely is one. Apparently you have to make it from the top of the pyramid that you're in to the bottom or center, and the game never really explains anything as to why or how. Thankfully you at least get a wall image that depicts the control scheme at the beginning, but the rest of the time the dialogue that transpires is more poor comedy and nonsense than anything useful. You almost start to wonder why developers would do such a thing.

Necropolis is a multiplayer game at heart but it can be played solo. Having an Xbox One Elite controller falling apart in my hands while I was playing, I have come to the conclusion that should you decide to play through it solo, some form of therapy is in order because you are setting yourself up for massive disappointment after massive disappointment,here's why; You have to balance the use of the brilliant lock on mechanism because normally the game will send room after room of enemies after you, and when you're locked on, you won't see attackers coming from behind. Then you'll have to balance your stamina, and everything takes stamina such as dodging, rolling, jumping, swinging your sword, and using your secondary weapon. All of these extras expend your stamina which you'll have to figure out because the game never explains that to you either. Oh, but there's more.

Nothing in terms of codex and secrets are explained either. You can navigate through the game and find a codex but you have absolutely no idea what it does or how it helps you in any way. And for some strange reason Necropolis actually finds all of this sadistic humor funny as it taunts and mocks you throughout the game. Not only does it do all of this, but when you go to reload after dying, normally you would see some form of in-game information that would give you some clue as to how to pass or handle certain areas but nope, not here. Instead you get snarky comments that pass off as intelligent, but in reality it's meaningless banter.

It goes without saying that playing in a group is almost a requirement if you feel that any progression is going to be made, but the dungeon randomization does seem to do the trick for solo play. However, you can rapidly find that the desire to replay the pyramid over and over again diminishes greatly thanks to the randomizer being pretty shallow. I did enjoy game's visual style though. I really felt a minimalistic sense on display here and the notches of color that are selectively shown really give Necropolis an almost back from the dead kind of feeling. The soundtrack though was like the plot; next to invisible.

Make no mistake, Necropolis is a very hard game, and should you be playing solo, it is a game that is shockingly and absolutely brutally hard as it tries it's best to keep you in the dungeon for all eternity. On top of this, being priced at $30 makes Necropolis a really hard sell simply because other games that have pioneered the type of gameplay mechanics found within have already been out, are cheaper, and more exciting to play. When you essentially blindfold your gaming audience and expect them to trudge through the game's levels, I struggle to think of a reason to plunk down the price of admission. If you're a fanatic for games like the Dark Souls series, then you may find your sadistic kicks in Necropolis, otherwise your money is better spent elsewhere.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide

What would happen if a game developer took a fantasy world setting full of magic, steel, and gunpowder, and pitted several classes of characters sending them forth to exterminate the Skaven who threaten to destroy everything in existence? This is the type of question that developer Fatshark answered with their release Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide. Priced at $39.99 Fatshark has attempted to bring the PC hit to consoles and deliver a quality gaming experience. Have they done it? Let's find out.

Long ago it was prophesied that The End Times would bring about an apocalyptic series of events that would ultimately lead to the complete and total destruction of the Warhammer world. Think of this as another extinction level event of which nothing will be the same again (e.g. Marvel Civil War). However, in the face of such unending demise, a band of 5 warriors have bonded together in a last ditch effort to thwart the evil from becoming so and to rewrite history. Although this sounds like a great narrative, the plot lines and execution of the story is incredibly shallow. I do understand that it's not the type of game that would involve an immense depth to a plot, but if you're ultimately looking for a trigger testing hack and slash game, look no further. With such a wealth of information at hand for reference and/or inspiration, it's a shame that such a game just seems to focus on hacking and slashing everything and going from point A to a linear point B.

I cannot, in good conscience, go any further without discussing how blatant Fatshark has been in mirroring the game essence of Left 4 Dead. Vermintide almost literally seems to have copied every point from Left 4 Dead and just put a Warhammer skin on it. For starters, the whole co-op party system where the party leader can select between missions. And of course there is also 'their' version of a horde mode. Once in the selected level you'll be tasked to take your group from point A to point B yet you're not given a map because the levels are so linear you cannot get lost. The only exploration that exists is navigating through select homes and back alleys that you can search while you are making your way towards your task's end. But before you do any of this you have to select your character, and in Vermintide there are 5 different ones to select from.

The Waywatcher would be regarded as a wood elf who utilizes bows, daggers and swords. Your Bright Wizard is just that, a wizard, who can unleash fire from her staff, but is governed by her use of her magic which can unfortunately consume her, thus killing her. Next you have your Soldier class who is about as generic as they come and is proficient in the use of shotguns, swords, hammers, etc. Then the shortest hero to select from is your Dwarf Ranger, who is essentially Gimli from Lord of the Rings. He's a short dwarf with a shield who can run rampant on foes with his crossbow, hammer, and of course, an axe. Rounding off the character list you have your Witch Hunter. This character sports pistols and rapiers in battle, but they can also wield crossbows and larger melee weapons such as hammers. Completing missions with these characters will allow you to level them up and unlock new character development slots to bring your hero to a whole new level.

The tutorial is good to get your feet wet in terms of the control scheme. Controls are relatively simplistic given the variants of moves that come from a PC landscape, but yet they do not seem to quite feel as familiar as other first person shooter layouts. The Left Trigger is used for blocking and the Right for attacking. The Y button switches between ranged attacks and your melee weapon. The A button is assigned for jumping (barely gets your character off the ground), and X allows you to interact with objects. Finally, the d-pad is used for quick selection of potions, etc. Earlier I wrote that this was a trigger tester because after long hours of gameplay you will not only have a much stronger right index finger, but you'll find out how tough your controller triggers actually are.

This Left 4 Dead clone does hold some improvements as the game is broken up into several missions (a total of 16 in fact) that not only increase in difficulty, but also include 3 bonus missions to play as well. Naturally, at the end of each mission you're not only awarded XP to help level your character up, but you also get the opportunity to try for gear which can consist of weapons or trinkets which you can either wear or combine within a forge/shrine to produce better quality items. This helps increase the replay factor, which is good considering all you ever do is hack and kill everything over and over again.

Now as mentioned earlier, Vermintide is a co-op experience, however, if you don't have any friends online, or any that want to play this game, you can still select to host an open game where gamers can join your match, allowing you to have up to 3 AI bots or any combination of both. We all know that AI companionship in video games is not reliable at all, and while that's true for Vermintide, there's more problems lurking in the darkness. One of the problems is since you absolutely have to connect to Vermintide's online servers to play, should there be any interruption, either on your end or theirs, you won't be able to play anything.

Other connection issues arise as well. If you're in someone else's game and they decide that they no longer want to play and leave their game, you're instantly booted, not back to your own individual Inn, but to the game's main title screen. So essentially, once you join a host's game your connection to the servers becomes solely dependent upon them. In keeping with the whole connection theme, unless you're in a party chat, there is very little in-game communication. This seems weird as you're supposed to be playing a co-op game but it doesn't allow you to communicate with one another easily.

In terms of the visuals, it's a mixed bag. The cutscenes are done with great detail and you can see that a lot of work went into producing the world in which you play in; however, there are some shading issues and graphic abnormalities that are random but not unnoticed during actual gameplay. The sound effects and soundtrack to this game is honestly not the game's strongest point. The lackluster music and generic sound effects leave a lot to be desired, and the voice acting is tolerable, so when assessed as a whole the sound just gets it done in this game.

Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide, although not perfect as it has some issues, still manages to bring about a fresh and deeper evolution of the Left 4 Dead gameplay formula making for a somewhat enjoyable gaming experience. There is still content that is available on PC that isn't available yet on the Xbox One, but from the starting block it seems that developer Fatshark has done a pretty good job not just bringing a PC game to the consoles, but also in bringing some relative fun to gamers with this new game.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Mafia III

Open world games (sandbox) have long been a staple of successful video games. The Mafia franchise, which falls within the sandbox video game genre, has always taken a far more mature approach to its narrative found, and the most recent entry into the series, Mafia 3, is no different. In fact, developer Hangar 13 tells you up front, with a warning spanning the entire screen, that what you're about to hear, play, and experience contains nudity, vulgar language, dramatic violence, and hate speech. They do this out of respect for those who lived through such hate and anger in a form of tribute to their times. Let's see though just how good Hangar 13 did as we head back in time to the late 1960's.

Mafia 3's greatest strength has to be its story. Set in a deep southern town called New Bordeaux, it is Hangar 13's attempt at a theoretical New Orleans, complete with all the character that you would expect given that the Vietnam War has just ended and segregation of people is present, and all of the emotions and consequences of such are in the minds of the populous. Here is a tale involving Lincoln Clay, the character who you control. He is an African American who originally enlisted in the Army and was sent over to Vietnam, but due to his excellent performance he was promoted into a Special Forces division. After coming back, you, as Lincoln, find that your father has crossed a mob boss and that certain gangs are trying to take over specific territories within New Bordeaux, and in the end you discover that they are all led by one deceitful "Son of a Bitch".

This entire tale is more than just your classic cliché of vigilante justice, as it is a direct element of racism and the mentality of a society as a whole. Examples of this include the crimes you commit. If you commit a crime in some upscale estate area, then expect the police to charge at you hard to nail you for a crime; however, do it in the slums or the swamp and you could literally get away with murder.

I enjoyed how the delivery of the story is setup to be like some form of documentary. Each mission seemed to carry with it a new mini-movie which was the documentary unfolding, and the use of media form that time era was a stroke of brilliance to tie it all into the time period the game takes place in. After the cutscenes the mission starts and you're on your way. Now, the ultimate goal of Mafia 3 is to reclaim the city and you have to start going through the criminal empire from the ground up.

There will be times when you shoot to kill, but other times it pays to have friends that are ambitious. Remember the phrase: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"? Once you're on the path to reclaiming the city you will have to make choices in terms of support. Reclaiming these areas and showing support will allow you to unlock perks that can essentially help turn Lincoln into a bigger, more lethal killing machine. You will start to balance your time in between the areas that you reclaim because if you don't the gangs in the area will actually rise up against you. Not only does this change what perks are available for you to get when you progress, but it will also effect the ending you get in the game, which is a wonderful treat given the mostly linear storylines we experience today.

Mafia 3's gameplay is very straight forward. If you've played any 3rd person action game in the past, oh 20 years or so, then you're well familiar with the style. The A button leads you in and out of cover (sometimes though there were instances where I would "pop" out of cover for no reason), the left bumper switches weapons, left trigger aims, the right trigger fires, etc. So, there really isn't any kind of learning curve when it comes to learning the controls behind the game. This is a refreshing aspect, but throughout the game you will witness an ungodly amount of repetition within not only the gameplay, but the combat and mission structure as well. Once the city is totally opened up to you it is a time when Mafia 3 offers its best, but it's also when you realize that it may not be all it's cracked up to be.

For starters there's no fast travel, anywhere. If you have a mission that takes you across town and you complete it in less than a minute, congratulations, you can now haul your butt back across town so you can fetch your next quest. Even though the driving mechanics are enjoyable, and are more of an arcade style, it feels incredibly dull at times. Another gripe has to do with the visuals. While the cutscenes are fantastic the same cannot be said for the rest of the game. Sure it's authentic; however, numerous times my game's color would shift and change, and the open world modeling is definitely nothing like other top tier sandbox games such as Grand Theft Auto (come on, you know the comparison would happen). Physics also seem to take a break from time to time. For example, as I was driving my car I tapped the bumper of the car in front of me and I took to the skies with flight. I then ended up crashing down and my car was destroyed.

While there may be tons of bugs within Mafia 3, the soundtrack is pure gold. Set in the 1960's era, the entire soundtrack consists of iconic songs from back in that time period. Jimmy Hendricks, The Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and more belt over the radio station, and that's when I had a revelation about this game. Lately some games have tried hard to give gamers more radio stations to listen to, and in the process give you more of a music choice, but what some of them fail to do is provide quality music. Case in point, listening to the soundtrack of the new Forza Horizon 3 makes me want to try to become my own Vincent Van Gogh, but Mafia 3's soundtrack makes me want to crack open a beer and crank up the volume.

Mafia 3 sets out to step into the ring and compete for your dollar just as hard as every other 3rd person sandbox game; however, while the story and its delivery is superb, there are a bunch of glitches that have yet to be patched that bring this title down a peg or two. With improved visuals, Mafia 3 could start to contend with bigger games from companies like Rockstar, but until that happens, combined with improved polish and testing for bugs, it just doesn't seem to be the case. I think that this is what disappointed me the most. I felt like what I was playing could be a top contender for a game of the year, but then as I got deeper into it I realized that there are too many nagging issues holding it back from that level.

Overall Score: 7.1 / 10 Bioshock: The Collection

Years ago gamers were swept away to an underwater city called Rapture in a game called Bioshock. It was here that player started their campaign to find out more about this psychological thriller, and in fact, there was so much demand that a second and third game were made. When these games first launched they took the world by storm. They combined beautiful graphics with a story that, although not directly connected, strived to deliver the same mental twists that gamers came to crave from the Bioshock brand. Recently 2K Games released Bioshock: The Collection at a full retail price $59.99. Now we all know that sometimes it's better to not try to mess with what already is an icon, but do they get it right?

If you haven't played any of the Bioshock games, then let me just start out by saying I don't care where you've been, just go out and buy this game. The plot of all the three games combined starts out strong, but towards the end tends to lack the punch that we experienced in the first game, but I refuse to spoil any of the story and strongly encourage you to experience this game with fresh eyes. You'll thank me later, trust me. What seems to be the whole stand out aspect of this collection is that now these three games render at 1080p and 60FPS, though the occasional dip in the framerate felt disorienting.

It felt smooth as silk stepping back into Rapture, and heading back to the steampunk city called "Columbia", like coming home after being away for numerous years. I was also surprised at how well the controls held up as it still provided a solid control layout that played right into the plasmid power vs. ammunition battle. Quick selecting with your bumper buttons, firing weapons with your triggers and smooth targeting motion/acquisition are qualities found in top FPS games, and you will find all of that, and more, within each game in this collection.

I do have to note that there is a large missing component with the content actually contained within this collection. Bioshock was such a success that the public damn near cried out for multiplayer, and the squeaky gear got the oil. Bioshock 2 included multiplayer gameplay that, for the time, was revolutionary for the series. However, in this latest release, even though the graphics have been upgraded, and many aspects of the series is included in the collection, there is no multiplayer at all, so half of the game itself is gone without explanation. So instead of three complete games it's more like two and a half. There is one thing for all you achievement hunters to take note though, there are over 4000 achievement points to be had packed within this collection. Now, for more good news, and that's all thanks to the fact that all the single player DLC from all the games is available to go right from the beginning.

There are new collectibles to find as well while you spend your days in the depths of the sea or the clouds in the sky. You'll find golden movie reels, and when collected you will be able to view some behind the scenes footage that discusses the creation of the game and all the aspects and story within it. If it's your first time playing the series I strongly advise against watching these until you have played through the entire story of all three titles as there are tons of spoiler information throughout. This is not the case however for the Bioshock Museum. Here you can view how art and modeling changes between versions of a character were made before fans were delivered the final product. All these insights help shed some light on the evolution of what we know as Bioshock.

It goes without saying that Bioshock: The Collection brings back all the wonder and amazement we found all those years ago, and it does so in wonderfully rendered 1080p and 60FPS for a high majority of the time. While Bioshock 2 is missing it's multiplayer, the collection as a whole provides all the single player DLC and over 4000 Achievement Points to help take the sting away. Bioshock: The Collection takes what we remembered about our time in Rapture, and the city in the sky "Columbia", and tugs on the heartstrings of our emotional attachment that started with the Big Daddy and the Little Sisters, and plays our soul like a Stradivarius. After all these years Bioshock: The Collection still provides one fantastic gaming moment after another. Now would you kindly go out and buy this game?

Suggestions: Please include the multiplayer for Bioshock 2, and please update and patch the drop in framerate drops that players will come across now and then.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Awesomenauts Assemble!

Years ago the Xbox 360 gaming world was treated to a fantastic 2D MOBA style platformer called Awesomenauts. The release was regarded with high praise around the world and now we have its pseudo sequel, Awesomenauts Assemble! I say pseudo sequel because this $9.99 gem doesn't have to do much, compared to the original, to make it stand out as a must have title on everyone's radar. So you might be wondering then, if it's just a modern console reboot of a great classic game, should I buy it?

For those not familiar with Awesomenauts Assemble!, it harkens you back to the days of your youth, assuming of course your youth was spent back in the 1980's and was full of over the top cartoons, stylish action shows, and a never ending feeling of awesomeness. You'll play as one of 26 outlaws, each with their own upgradable expansions and play style, and your sole function in this virtual life is to destroy your opponent's Solar tank. Solar, in the Awesomenauts' world, is their form of currency and it's what you use to upgrade your character, buying new methods of destruction, and so much more. So, while the story and plot is so thin it's almost translucent, the over the top action and style of the game prevent anything form effecting it negatively.

When you start out you'll notice that there are several game modes to select from. Each of these modes can incorporate up to 6 people, or AI bots should you desire, and they range from quick match and custom matches as well as training, that latter being where you can test out every single one of the 26 outlaws to see which one works best for your style of gameplay. I say your style because a lot of the characters are grouped into certain skill sets which give them distinct gameplay characteristics, making every one feel unique. Some will be weighted down with heavy armor and be your traditional tanks that draw the fire and damage allowing others the opportunity to strike, while some will be support and 'area of effect' fighters who attack sections instead of individuals. There is a wealth of diversity, so it would benefit you immensely to take a browse over the different fighters and see what works out best for you.

Awesomenauts Assemble! has done a fantastic job incorporating RPG elements within the game. Earlier I touched on a notion that you'll have to purchase new abilities through the store, and in order to do this you'll need Solar and experience. The way you obtain this is by going on a killing spree and taking out as much as you can, and in doing so you will gain Solar and XP to help upgrade your outlaw. It's also a good idea to take note of where the health orbs are because in the middle of battle, when both sides are injured, they can mean the difference between victory and defeat. That's because the action is so fast paced that you'll have to keep on your toes if you want to survive the upper and lower levels of the turret supported map. Speaking of maps...

Each one of them spawn helpful meaningless robots which not only attack opponents, but will act as shields if you stay behind them, letting them absorb the damage. This tactic is vital in trying to take out enemy turrets and bases. I did have an issue here though as the level selection consisted of only six levels. While each of them are done in a beautiful side scrolling nostalgic throwback style, I was hoping for a little more in this re-boot, but that doesn't mean what is provided is bad by any means. Each level and character is designed with distinct vibrant look that stands out boldly against the beautiful backgrounds. The other small gripe I have is that Awesomenauts Assemble! doesn't provide any other game modes other than destroy your opponents. With no variety in type, and on what level it's played upon, a sense of repetition when you start to play for long sessions doesn't seem to go away.

Combat is what the primary focus of Awesomenauts and it is what will be the driving force behind the RPG elements for each character. Each of the face buttons represents a possible action for your character and you can unlock more by not only leveling up your outlaw, but by spending Solar on them to buy new talents. To help you not feel so overwhelmed, purchasing options are fairly streamlined all throughout, so you never have to feel like you don't know what you're doing. To perfect your combat I strongly suggest training with the game's bots for a few matches so you can get the feel for the RPG balancing and the upgrade system. Once you have the feel for the game down, then try your hand at the online competition and start wrecking.

Awesomenauts Assemble! is a re-boot of a quality classic Xbox 360 Live Arcade game, and for $9.99 you should consider adding this to your digital library. It provides countless hours of addictive experiences wrapped up in a massive never ending explosion of fun and enjoyment. Although there are only six levels they are dynamic settings that allow you to still get an enjoyable experience in a game like this that is not often found on any console. Thankfully the developers offered up some balancing and other beneficial updates to the title that put the cherry on top of the cake making this one of the more smart purchases you can make on the Xbox One today.

Suggestions: More levels and game types please.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Pure Chess

Throughout my life one game that always holds a special place in my heart is Chess. I love the strategy aspect where both sides are equal and it comes down to ingenuity, tactics, and skill, instead of things like how much ammo you have. Chess is one of the oldest games on the planet and has long been herald as the game of kings. Now though, developer VooFoo Studios has released Pure Chess through the Xbox One in an attempt to capture a strong foothold in the chess gaming genre. At $12.49 + tax, is it worth paying this much for a game that originally came out on the PS3 back in April 2012? That's a big stretch.

Having praised VooFoo for their work in their Pure Pool game, it goes without saying that the development of this game shows incredible attention to detail and even a level of presentation never seen before. As you begin you will have numerous options, and for those who don't know what an em passant is or how to move your players, I suggest going through the built in training session where you will cover basic, intermediate, and advanced chess techniques. This will help get you comfortable with the pieces and the board, and should start to help you unlock some basic strategy.

Once you have this under your belt you're then presented with a multitude of options. One of them is a sequential mode for solving checkmates, however, every mode increases the number of moves and difficulty. For instance, you may be starting out by solving for mate in 1 move but then at the end, your mode will have you solving for mate in 5 moves where you have to start figuring out what your opponent will move and start thinking "moves ahead" to properly plan your attack. Each mode packs 20 challenges, so you're looking at 100 total challenges to solve which is quite a daunting task, but will go to great lengths to help you prepare for more experienced gameplay.

Pure Chess also offers up multiple tournaments that you can play in. These tournaments range from beginner to master and should be attempted in that order unless you feel like being made to feel like an idiot by the computer. The difficulty levels is where Pure Chess really shines. Providing not only a predesigned difficulty level through the tournament structure, but also allowing such difficulty customization for the single play system is absolutely brilliant. For the single player system, you get to go against either a computer AI or human should one be sitting beside you. Here you can select who plays on what color, the move timer, show highlighted moves, and so much more. This allows you to a lot of freedom in customizing your Pure Chess experience, but not even close to the customization of the pieces.

If you're not familiar with VooFoo games, they are known for their incredible visual representations as well as stunning music, and I'm overjoyed to say that you find both in this version. Yes, for a game that is now over 4 years old, it still shines like a beauty on the Xbox One. When you purchase the game you'll get multiple packs for piece designs, and the overwhelming majority of them are stunning to look at. Now you'll have a default view which provides you a nice layout angle of the board and its pieces, but you also have other views by pressing the Right Bumper and then using the Left Stick to select the individual piece, while using Right Stick to move the camera around in a full 360-degree field, also allowing you to use a zoom feature with the triggers. This adds a lot of depth to the graphical quality and is a very nice touch. From this mode if you press the Right Bumper again, you'll snap to a pure overhead view of the board, and pressing it again it will cycle itself back to the normal default view.

However, there are some issues when it comes to the pieces themselves within the pack. There are some very difficult ones to clearly see and distinguish, such as the clear crystal, as they are divided into a red crystal and a clear crystal. Playing as a red crystal (black) it's incredibly easy to lose track of where your opponent's clear pieces are, thus overlooking it and opening yourself up for a world of hurt. Another small gripe would be the lack of venues to play in, as there are only 3 to select from, and there are no extra venues included in any of the add-on packs included in the purchase.

Working in tandem with these stunning graphics is a soundtrack that literally surprised me and has rapidly become one of my all-time favorites. Giving you multiple genres of music to select from, my Klipsch system serenaded me with beautiful Jazz music that's full of wonderful piano, to a nature relaxation tune that made my blood pressure drop an easy 20 points. It's so good that I've even turned the game on and just left it on. Turned off the TV and went about my day and had this phenomenal music playing everywhere. If you think the graphics are good, the sound is even better.

There are some issues though with the multiplayer and that comes in the form of not forcing a move on your opponent. Normally when you play an opponent you have a set amount of time you can take before you have to move or forfeit. This aspect seems to be extinct from the game, so you can quite literally start a game, and your opponent could never move at all. This forces you to either sit there and wait until they decide to move, or quit and play something else which results in a loss for you and a win for your opponent. Now way back in the day, chess games that were played with others over long distances were done through correspondence where you would send a letter off with a move, and then you would get one in return. Sadly, what this means is that you could have a game that literally never ends because you can take as long as you want so you could take decades if you so desired. A way to resolve this would be to split the multiplayer up into a timed match and a lengthier correspondence match. Hopefully this will be addressed because it takes away from a great core of what could be an amazing game.

Now based off of all this, can we say that Pure Chess delivers an incredible chess experience? Without question. From the customization options, the stunning visual representations, and a soundtrack that is an audio dream, Pure Chess brings you an experience like never before. While the venues are extremely limited, nothing compares to the multiplayer issues that remove the move clock without any option to include it. That effectively eliminates one entire mode completely, and since Chess is mostly a multiplayer game, that's a major drawback. You would think after all this time VooFoo would have addressed it and corrected the issue, but apparently didn't manage to since its initial release 4 years ago. Because of this large oversight of essentially half the game, wait until this game gets around the $4.99 and pick it up.


Suggestions: Fix the multiplayer and this would have been a far higher rating.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 PAC-MAN Championship Edition 2

There are very few gaming icons that have survived so many generations with varying re-imaginings as Pac-Man. From the days of the classic quarter munching coin-op, Pac-Man has gone through many different shifts, not just in board layout but in dimensions as well. Bandai Namco has recently released the latest Pac-Man game called, coincidentally, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, which is a sequel to, you guessed it, Pac-Man Championship Edition. This latest release is priced at $12.99 + tax and I'm sure will be pack full of bigger and ummm... better things.

The game has a few modes of play including Training (which I strongly insist to the point where it's almost a borderline demand), Score Attack, and Adventure mode. The training mode will get you used to the sheer speed and enemy physics that you will come across. This helps you get used to every aspect from bomb jumping, to ghost waking, to chain forming, and so on. Here you will also learn about "nudging" a ghost.

In almost all other variants of Pac-Man if you hit a ghost, you die. In Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 you can hit a ghost and they will bounce off of you and you can then move and avoid said ghost. Hit it again though and it will bounce you two away from each other; however, hit it a 3rd time in rapid succession and the ghost will fly up and off the board and land back down both enlarged and pissed off. Then it's a game of cat and mouse as you run like Neo from the Matrix to try and buy some time before the ghost calms down and you can "nudge" it again.

While you may think that 'ghost-bumping' seems out of place, you're right it is; however, when you are running short on time sometimes it is best to get a ghost mad at you so that as they fly off the board allowing you to slide underneath and then continue to eat pellets. Speaking of eating pellets, you don't need to be greedy. In previous games you had to eat all the pellets in order to move onto the next stage, but not here. At the bottom center of the screen you will see a handy meter, and as you eat more dots, the meter will rise until it gets to the end and spawns either a fruit, a power pellet, etc. Once eaten you will proceed to the next level and start the bar filling process all over again.

There's even a technique called a bomb jump where your Pac-Man can jump all the way back to the original starting point, which is coincidentally where the fruit or power-up spawns to end the level. While you have a limited number of these bomb jumps, you can always gain more, so it comes down to a fine balancing act. I usually found myself using the earlier stages to try and build up my bomb jump amount, doing so by eating all the dots on the level, and then the fruit, without dying.

One of the final aspects you'll train in are the boss battles. Here you will have a massive ghost that spawns behind you in your funky 2.5D future-retro hybrid stage and you have to clear so many stages within the time allotted in order to have Pac-Man break through and form many other 'Pac-Men' which you can use to take out the boss by breaking it down bit by bit. It's kind of gruesome if you think about it for a Pac-Man game, but it's also strangely satisfying. Now once you have the basics figured out and you can take to Score Attack.

Here you will start to notice a massive grid where your score on each level determines your letter grade, and obviously the higher the better. There are many techniques that you can use to make your score climb, one of them being quite simple; eating every pellet. Your multiplier grows and grows until you reach 500 points per pellet eaten. This is when your score literally starts to skyrocket. Another way to gain massive score bonuses is to create a chain of ghosts, and then at the end of the stage eat a power pellet and hunt down them down. Hit the first ghost and you’ll devour every following ghost in this trail. Combine this with the bonuses you get for lives retained, or bomb jumps not used, and your score will soar into the heavens.

Overall it’s simplistic and nothing too challenging so I like to call this mode 'advanced training' because you are graded after every performance, and Adventure mode has a requirement score needed in Score Attack. Once you hit Adventure mode though you'll be able to guide Pac-Man through six defined sets where each set consists of ten levels, and once you reach the final stage you have to face a boss battle.

All of this dot chomping goodness comes wrapped in a neon heavy dressing of transparency set in hyper speed. This increase in speed will have you looking far ahead and almost mapping a path in front of you so you can plan your route carefully. The mix of a hybrid future and retro is serenaded by an amped up techno mix that is rapidly becomes somewhat annoying despite its best efforts to help immerse you deeper into this new Pac-Man experience.

When it's all said and done, and the last pellet has been eaten, sadly I can't justify the $12.99 + tax for this game, even though it's not a bad game. Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 tries to be bigger and bolder then the first, but it just doesn't seem to provide the same type of quality execution. That's disappointing because I love how different companies interpret Pac-Man and I know this could have been done a whole lot better, especially since I enjoyed the first one so much.

Suggestions: A cheaper price of admission would make this game more tempting for people to buy.

Overall Score: 7.6 / 10 Claire: Extended Cut

It's been said many times before but it's true, survival horror games are a dying genre (see what I did there?). You can see many examples where plot and character development are switched out for increased gore and over the top killing sequences, which many people now see as the staple for a horror game. Hailstorm Games recently released their own survival horror game called Claire: Extended Cut on the Xbox One. Now let's grab our flashlights and see if it is worth the $14.99 + tax price.

The game focuses around your main character, aptly named Claire. This emotionally distraught young woman seems to be battling her own emotional and internal demons while caring for her sick mother at a hospital. Right from the beginning, the story takes a twisted turn and immediately you think you're in for a wild psychological thrill ride that you'll never want to see end.

Seeing as you're taking care of your mother in a hospital, that is where you spend the majority of your time. Shortly after, everything goes upside down you'll be accompanied by your trusty dog Anubis, and it's up to you to venture through the possessed and slightly demonic hospital as Claire tries to unravel her past through her dreams. Along the way you will come across various strangers, each of which require a choice to be made as to how you can help them. Be forewarned though, each action carries with it a consequence, so choose wisely.

Unfortunately, the game seems to hit a point that leaves you full of questions with very little answers. This is one of the things that got under my skin because if we're honest, when we get really frightened it's because we have invested ourselves into the story. When you don't have that emotional connection to the audience, why even tell the story then? This is just one of several flaws that really set this game back in my eyes, and it's a shame because demonic hospitals are a horror cliché that, if done right, can be incredibly scary. Sadly, though this game wasn't done right.

This is in part due to the gameplay. While it's customizable as it allows you to select varying pre-loaded controls that are already mapped out, that doesn't stop the fact that the big problem with the gameplay is the guidance, or lack thereof. Claire: Extended Cut is laid out in a 2D map with a 2D side scrolling display, and that sounds fairly simplistic and straightforward; however, when you take into account that doors and passage ways are hard to decipher, you will find yourself constantly bringing up your map trying to figure out not only what direction you're going, but where you're trying get to next. This really detaches you from the game, breaking any sort of hold that it tried to have in the first place. Earlier you read about those strangers that you have to decide on how you help, and to do that sometimes you'll have to use items in your inventory which you can see are almost ripped straight from Resident Evil. While some items can be used to help others, they can also heal you and keep your sanity in check, so you'll need to make some hard decisions.

In the midst of all the terror within Claire: Extended Cut, the developers have decided to put puzzles within the game. These are presented with very little to no guidance, or clues as to how to solve them, but thankfully they weren't too difficult, and seeing as how Claire seems to be running from unkillable shadow monsters, time is literally the most important thing you have. Another gripe is the game is not that clear as to how to equip your flashlight or even just change its batteries. Since the game only tells you this one time only, you get the feeling that something so simple would have provided a great deal of assistance, especially coming from the basic lighter.

Even though Claire: Extended Cut is a pixelated 2D game, the graphics aren't that bad. If you enjoy a retro feel to the multitude of different areas within a hospital, then this game is right up your alley. Sadly though the soundtrack leaves a lot to be desired, but the sound effects really helped pull the game's sound through. When you are close to an enemy you'll hear your dog growl, your heartbeat pound, and the music will swell (which is what you would expect from any horror media); however, the music is what gets the big thumbs down. They could have stripped the soundtrack down to literally just ambient background noise and let your mind run wild with the various noises and it would have been far superior to what is there now. Thanks to the execution of the sound I'm actually quite thankful that there is no voice acting, just text input.

Should you plunk down $14.99 + tax for Claire: Extended Cut? Unfortunately dear readers, the answer is no. Claire: Extended Cut sadly takes an iconic horror setting and tries hard, but it fails to deliver a quality survival horror experience. Sure, there are some good points, but the negatives far outweigh any good you can find. This is truly a saddening because the potential was there, but the execution was not. A few slight improvements, should there be a sequel, would make a world of difference in making a sub-par survival horror game turn into a pants-wetting fright fest.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Dogos

There is a dying genre of gaming in the world today. Shoot 'em up (shump) games are far and few between, and quality shump games are even rarer. Developer OPQUAM have decided to step into the ring with Dogos, a top down shump style game for the low, low price of $11.99 + tax. Promising exciting and innovative gameplay, the real questions to be asked are: "Does it really provide that gameplay?" and "Is it worth the cost?"

Dogos starts you off on planet Earth where aliens named Dogos (who knew right?) have attacked, and thanks to apparently very quick setup times, they have fortified a total of 14 hybrid levels to challenge your shooting skills. Throughout the meaningless story you'll learn more about the Dogos, and your pilot, but if we're being honest here, that won't matter because you'll be too busy fixated on the actual levels themselves. Developer OPQUAM has decided to venture away from the whole "on rails" experience, as normally in a shump game your ship in set to naturally fly through a series of pre-loaded levels where it's impossible to do any sort of exploration. Well, not here.

Instead you're going to switch between a forced top down view where your sole focus is to essentially hang on for dear life and never stop firing. This mode is designed to transport you through long narrow passageways that would be normally mundane to fly through at increased speed, and they not only pay homage to the on the rails aspect, but they also save time and prevent Dogos from becoming boring. Once you manage to get through, Dogos abandons the whole "on rails" concept to focus on open level sandbox exploration where you have free control to fly forward, back, left, right, or wherever you want to go. Along with this you have free camera control movement as well, so the levels are a sort of hybrid mix of the two different game types.

The problem I had was with this was that Dogos always seemed to have a slight hiccup while the camera was shifting between the two modes, and should I be going from open world to rails, the game would immediately propel my craft faster than I would normally go. Sometimes when combined with the hiccup in the transfer my ship, I would go crashing head-on into the side of a canyon. Speaking of ships though...

They're more traditional here. You get two of them and each have their own distinct balances of weapons, shields, speed, etc., so it's not like you have a plethora of choices to see what works best for you. Each ship has varying armaments which include a single primary weapon that you fire with RT, and a ground weapon that you fire with LT. Both of these weapons can unlock more variants as you progress through the game and you can unlock weapons such as screen filling laser spreads and cluster bombs.

One issue that plagued me was a seemingly impossible way of hitting ground targets. My laser fire would knock out anything in the sky, but trying to hit a small moving tank with a missile was like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. Since this hit detection is so poorly executed you will find yourself literally bashing the crap out of your LT, which not only will result in finger fatigue, but your left index finger will become super-humanly strong compared to your others.

On top of this weaponry you get special attacks as well that can consist of homing missiles, laser cannon, and so much more. To fire these, you have to first obtain them by collecting ammo for them from fallen enemies, then just press LB and watch as all the enemies on the screen become under attack. Very straightforward, which is good. I just wish I could say the same for the graphics and the music though, but they aren't up to par.

The top down segments almost feel like wasted time as they throw you through a winding narrow corridor where they litter the path with enemies and traps to kill you, only to have you emerge into a massive battle where you have missiles, tank rounds, and more coming at you like a massive tidal wave of enemy ammunition. Personally I'd rather see these sections shortened or removed to focus more on the sandbox exploration, because when you're flying through the corridor sections you can't enjoy the graphics around you the same way you can when you're exploring. The sound though is dreadful. I wasn't expecting any sort of sonic marvel, but the soundtrack is a high energy piece that gets drilled into your skull thanks to its repetition. I currently enjoy the game more if I turn my sound off, and that to me is never a good sign.

Dogos tries to do quite a lot, but in doing so it is sadly underwhelming in a lot of categories. It's like the old saying, a Jack of all trades is a Master of none, and that is what Dogos is a prime example of. Had there been more of a focus on the open sandbox exploration, and certainly better hit detection on the ground weaponry, Dogos could have been a lot better than it is.

Overall Score: 6.9 / 10 Witness, The

If we set the way back machine to 2008, we bear witness to Jonathan Blow and his creation called Braid; A puzzle solving game that involved time manipulation. Braid was a sensational hit, not just in the puzzle genre, but games in general. Now fast forward about 7 years ahead and we are privileged to have his next release called the Witness from developer Thekla Inc. Using similar puzzle layouts that we used to find in iconic puzzle games like Myst, The Witness offers the gamer a plethora of emotions ranging from euphoric excitement, to heart stopping rage, and a spectacular example of how less can actually be a whole lot more. Priced at $39.99 + tax, the Witness better deliver for that price. Does it? Grab your thinking caps and let's get exploring.

You have to understand something about the Witness, and that is the whole "story" concept is fundamentally different in almost every aspect than what we as gamers are used to. It's a far more cerebral experience and doesn't rely common plotlines like the world is ending, or mankind is on the brink of annihilation, etc. Instead you are given philosophical and theological quotes found on tiny (and I do mean tiny) voice recorders that are from famous historic people. These are found usually as you progress through the various puzzles, but while some will provide clues such as "crossing invisible lines", others will just flat out confuse. Even from the beginning you don't know who you are, where you are, how you got there, why you are there, and what you have to do next.

Instead you get a series of puzzles that, looking back on it, are some of the easiest to figure out in the game itself. Once you complete these then you will be able to solve a puzzle that will open a door to your new sandbox. This island that you're on is fully open to you and filled with puzzle after puzzle after puzzle. You also don't have to complete the entire series of puzzles either, as you can walk away from a puzzle to go find and explore more so don't feel frustrated if you can't solve a puzzle just yet, because through your exploration you'll come to understand the reasoning and logic behind some of the puzzles. Plus you just may learn the varying languages you need to solve them. I'm not talking languages such as French, Japanese, etc., but more of a symbolic language with varying colors and outlined patterns that provide you some form of insight as to just what you need to do.

This is key because I have lost count how many times I was left furious to the point of testing the breaking point of an elite controller, only then to figure out the language, and once again I feel like a dunce. That is The Witness' biggest and worst point all wrapped up into one. When you approach a puzzle in a series you will get the feel for how the puzzle operates within the first couple ones, however they do progress in difficulty, and sometimes will leave you so frustrated that it's best to just walk away and clear your mind. However, if you are struggling to complete a puzzle, and manage to do it, you're left feeling like you're one of the smartest people ever to walk the planet. That's until you go after your next puzzle and your euphoria is replaced by fury inspiring rage all over again. This emotional swing is surprising given the fact that the game's control system is one button.

Let me give you an example of the type of steps you'll need to go through to solve 1 out of over 500 puzzles. Picture a 6x5 grid of squares that require you to guide a light beam from an initial spawn point and move it in a certain pattern to solve it. Here are some of the 26 steps you need to do to solve just this one single puzzle out of a total of 5 puzzles:

Starting from the farthest left starting point move:

LEFT
UP
LEFT
DOWN
LEFT (x2)
UP
RIGHT
UP
RIGHT (x2)
DOWN
RIGHT
UP
LEFT (x2)
DOWN
LEFT
UP
LEFT (x2)
and UP

When you originally approach one of these numerous puzzles you will have absolutely no idea what you are supposed to do or how to solve this. It’s here that you have to take notice of some form of environmental clue or factor that will allow you to solve not only this puzzle, but the remaining ones in the series. Now the game does have subtle ways of teaching you the languages of the various puzzles, so if you are having difficulty, sometime venturing to another area or solving a different puzzle will help you decipher the clues to learning the key to the previous one, allowing you to then go back and apply your new knowledge to the one that had you stumped before.

Outside of the grey matter stress test, it goes without saying that The Witness is also a beautiful game. There are varying sections of your playground island, each of which is designed differently and provides dynamic contrasts between each area, all of which are done in a very cel shaded-like style, full of bright colors and a multitude of shades. There are deserts, forests, castles, and more all waiting to be explored. Just walking around and exploring you will quickly start taking screen captures left and right because it's genuinely gorgeous, but you'll also notice that there is next to nothing in terms of a soundtrack which starts to develop an increasing feeling of exclusion.

The Witness is one of the most emotional roller coasters you will find in gaming today, and on top of that, it's one of the most cerebral and intellectually challenging games you will probably ever play. Completing this game will require the comprehensive ability to decipher keys which in turn will teach you solutions, and you will need to combine all of this together with the ability to adapt on the fly because every single puzzle is different.

Would I pay $39.99 + tax for this game? Regrettably no. Sadly, the game does do a good job at giving you a lesson in isolationism, and while that is unique, the game itself doesn't feel like one flowing cohesive experience with any sort of point. If this game was priced at $24.99 or below though, it would be a must buy every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

When you have a game that is rapidly approaching its 3rd birthday (November 14, 2013) and was originally an iOS game, naturally you're not going to be expecting much in terms of quality. Now, when you also see that it's $14.99 on a current-gen console, you start questioning your own sanity. Xbox One owners get to dive into the adventure called Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas from Cornfox & Bros., but the big question that we have to ask ourselves: is Oceanhorn worth essentially $15 + tax when it's an iOS game that is almost 3 years old?

Normally I'd wait longer in my review to touch on anything to do with the sound; however, this game absolutely surprised me with the quality of the audio. I wondered why this was, and then his name popped up on the screen: Nobuo Uematsu. For those who don't know this name, I would regard him as one of the most influential musical composers in video game history. With a career that spans decades, Mr. Uematsu's work ranks in comparison to Beethoven. A master of music, you can hear his work right from the beginning. Every area carries with it a certain musical feeling that ranges from lighthearted and almost childlike fun, to a brooding and ominous soundtrack that is more foreboding. I can honestly say that when I first turned the game on I just set the controller down and listened for a while. Hearing the soundtrack combined with the crashing of the waves made the game unbelievably calming, which is deceptive given the story. If anything, the music alone is reason to buy this game.

The story is sadly nowhere near up to the quality of the music, but that does mean it's not any good. It's a story about survival of numerous races in an attempt to maintain peace, in a time where dark corruption has spawned numerous monsters bent on using dark power to destroy everything. Only one monster now remains, and that monster is Oceanhorn. Your father, knowing the danger that this one monster can cause, set out on a quest to destroy it, but never came back. Through your quest you will acquire magical skills and powerful weaponry, as well as meet interesting and somewhat mysterious people as you sail to various islands and try to figure out what Oceanhorn is, as well as the location and outcome of your father. While the story reads like a Hollywood suspense blockbuster, it is fairly generic, but that's not essentially a bad thing, and let me tell you why.

Oceanhorn has been strongly compared to numerous entries in the Zelda game series. In fact, some have gone so far as to say Oceanhorn is literally a carbon copy of some of them and that nothing feels unique to it since it seems to have diminished the amount of content in what you can do compared to a Zelda game. You hear phrases like "Legend of Ocean" and "Windhorn Waker", and that got me thinking; OK, first off I have to say that if there was ANY game that you would want to take inspiration from, it's a Zelda game. If you want a quality adventure game, there honestly isn't better source material out there. If one of my biggest gripes is that I'm too much like a Zelda game, I think that should be a huge compliment. I've lost count in how many times there have been modern adventure games that cost far more than this to make and they were a gargantuan failure. So, I guess I would say thank you to all those who would call this a Zelda clone.

Oceanhorn does a lot to make itself a quality gaming experience. One of the ways it goes about this is through the control system. Using the X button to swing your sword, and Right Trigger to raise your shield, your character is almost ready to go right from the very first level. As you progress you unlock spells that you can use with the Y button, and the A button is used as a dash/interact button. It goes without saying that Oceanhorn packs very simple gameplay mechanics which helps make this game very easy to just pick up, play, and enjoy. I did have some control issues in various areas that involved the mini map (which is essentially worthless), but overall the gameplay was definitely solid.

Using a very "Zelda-ish" feel for the graphics was a big stretch in artistic liberty, but in the end the results are pretty good. The islands themselves have unique qualities about them, which does well in helping to identify their own individual identity within the game. When you also take into account the individual music for each island, home, cave, and dungeon, you get the feeling that Oceanhorn is making a strong case for standing upon its own two feet.

Normally I'm not a fan of a 3-year-old mobile game that decides to release on the Xbox One, but I am a fan of Oceanhorn. The streamlined controls allow for fluid gameplay, the graphics pay fantastic homage to legendary source material, and the soundtrack is hands down in my top 5 Xbox Soundtracks of all time. In fact, one of the reasons for the score being lower then it could be is that I feel the songs are not long enough. I miss those sweeping soundscapes of harmonics and melodies, and while they are there, they're just too short. Yes, the story isn't that intriguing as some may want, but it's not that bad, and there is a sequel in development, and if this is their foundation to build upon I foresee nothing but some of the best quality gaming coming from Cornfox & Bros. I would venture to say that Ocearnhorn: Master of Uncharted Seas is without a doubt worth the $14.99 + tax, so go forth, purchase, download, and enjoy a solid gaming experience.

Suggestions: Other than focus on improving the story delivery and increasing the amount of activity you can do in the world, I would love to do a review of the soundtrack should one exist. Honestly readers, the soundtrack is a masterpiece.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Armello

When I was younger it seemed like anything we played with had our imaginations running wild. I remember the days fantasizing over majestic spells and epic battles in a strategic play that unfolded in our minds that we placed before us in reality. Priced at $19.99, Armello aims to deliver a virtual board game experience with heavy RPG elements in an environment home to many different animal factions. Yes, I said animal factions. Now, I understand that $19.99 is a lot to plunk down on a game that originally came out last year on PC, so is it worth that price today or is it showing signs of aging?

Starting things off, the storyline unfolds through the many different factions that are found in this game. Think of it like a story you would tell a person where you included the aspects and ideals of all the various races. Your kingdom is ruled by a Mad King who does nothing as a dark force called 'The Rot' starts to creep amongst the lands as it poisons and destroys all it touches. Throughout this story you will uncover side quests that will help grant your character different bonuses and treasures that can aid you, or even help turn a battle in your favor instantly. These side quests give you two options: you can either choose a safe ending, where you gain some bonuses, or you can select a riskier ending and hope to play the odds and win the bonus. Should you fail in the latter your character suffers damage and ends up losing their rewards.

In terms of content available, there is a ton of it for the single player, but the multiplayer aspect is absolutely brilliantly developed and a welcome breath of fresh air. Experiencing the different animal classes and their bonuses will allow you to play the game in a multitude of ways, which works wonders when trying to craft your individual strategy. You'll have to learn a lot if you want to overthrow the King and save the land. So how do you go about doing that? Essentially you navigate the different tiles while paying attention to their individual bonuses and hindrances that they provide, and then fight in combat when necessary; but there's so much more.

Armello focuses on cards. Everything is a card. Your followers are cards, your inventory items are cards, and most of these cost coins to use. You can earn coins and various followers can assist you with items that can be equipped and put in your inventory, which range from weapons and armor, to fake orders that you can use to divert enemies from your path. These cards differentiate in expense to use and the benefits to your character, and usually the higher the cost the bigger the benefit. Your character is assigned a certain number of AP (action points) which you can use to move, or play a card or two, leaving the choice in strategy entirely up to you. Once your round is done, holding the B button will end your turn.

When you talk about the frequent combat you will notice that your character will roll dice, and depending on your character's animal race, you will get a certain number of dice. Each race of animal has their own distinct bonus and there are even cards that can affect the number of dice you have and/or your opponents have as well, so keep that in mind for a tough fight. Each side represents a certain action, and after each side rolls their dice the action plays out, winner takes the position on the board. Armello does a great job with a tutorial system of various challenges along the same map, but from different animal factions so you can get a feel for the skills you'll need to master moving forward. I cannot stress enough how important it is to go through this, paying attention and observing the controls in the options menu as well. It goes without saying that Armello is easy to pick up and play, but tough to master.

The control system may sound complex and confusing, but the visuals and sound are done beautifully. The shifts from day to night and then to morning are done by creating a pallet of colors that not only are vibrant, but unique as well. While the majority of the game is dealt through text boxes, the board itself looks beautiful. The animations for interactions with others is also very smooth. In regards to the audio, particularly the music, wow did it ever surprise me. For many of the of the indie games that I review, I'm left with my ears bleeding and begging for me to stop, but that isn't the case here and I'm very thankful for it. Everything from the opening screen to the overworld environment, and even the battle sound effects, are done with great attention to detail and proper development which is a big plus in my book.

I can see why developer League of Geeks priced this game at $19.99, and after all that praise, I'm sure you're expecting me to say rush out and buy it, and I am. $19.99 may seem a bit too steep for a game style like this; however, given the overall presentation, and the gameplay that is contained in this indie title, the money you spend will be for a really good digital interactive board game, which is something you don't see too often.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Turing Test, The

Can a computer ever hold a conversation with a human being and pass along useful information? How does a computer value the information they are exposed to versus how a a human does, and what is their perception of value? These are just a few questions that are the foundation for Bulkhead Interactive's latest game, The Turing Test. In a sort of 2001 A Space Odyssey meets Portal, The Turing Test sets you on a psychological path of intrigue and self-examination. Grab your spacesuit, because our adventure starts now.

The Turing Project starts out introducing Ava, who is apparently waking from cryostasis sleep aboard a space station that is orbiting Europa, which is one of the many moons of Jupiter. You're awoken because the crew that has traveled to the surface is encountering an emergency and they are in need of support and you are the one they can call upon. When you wake you're greeted by TOM, who is the game's advanced computer system. Think of TOM like the computer HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Throughout your adventure TOM and Ava's conversations tend to dwell on philosophical points of interest as well as choices of morality and life. I won't say any more about the plot because it's one to be experienced, and you as a gamer should not have the experience ruined.

The Turing Test is first and foremost a puzzle game. Various switches and power orbs must be manipulated in order to advance from room to room and progress the story. It's pretty straight forward, which is a benefit to the player. The controls consist of the LT and RT to grab and release orbs, via your repair tool, and the X button is used to grab and manipulate selectable objects, such as power conduit boxes and other items throughout the base. Finally, the Left Stick is used to walk while the Right Stick controls the camera. There isn't any training in terms of a walkthrough, but there isn't much in terms of controls that would lead one to be perplexed by what to do next, because that's the puzzles job.

Just like any other games of a similar nature, the object is to go from one room to another solving puzzles along the way. That is where a lot of the joy is found. There will be times when you are so perplexed by a puzzle that you think it's impossible, but if you calm yourself and think logically, then the answer may not be as hidden as you thought it to be. One thing I will make note of is that line of sight is critically important to solve many of the puzzles. Another tip that I learned is that the conduit boxes are actually more important than the regular orbs. The reason for this is that your repair tool can hold up to 3 orbs at a time and you can carry one box, so at any given time you can manage up to 4 different items at once. This is very handy and as you progress through the game you will see why the boxes are more important than the orbs.

Being that this is a game set in outer space you would think that the graphics of the game would be incredible, and for the most part you would be right. There is little to experience outside of the constant puzzle after puzzle between every room, but what is available is done very well. Going through the crew quarters and reading the journals left behind and seeing the pictures of children waiting at home, or a faithful golden retriever, helps establish a bond that enables you to sense something is broken in some way and it's up to you to figure out why and help. While the game looks very good, what really stands out in the area of the presentation is the sound.

The start screen itself just blew me away with its tranquil melodies and piano work. I honestly sat there for over 15 minutes just listening to the music on the start screen where I could actually feel my blood pressure dropping at least 15 points. It's incredibly calming and the wondrous thing about the music is that the same quality carries with you throughout the entire game. This is one of, if not the best, quality of the game, but it's not just the music that gets thumbs up. The voice acting is some of the best I've heard in a very long time and not something you would expect from a game that is 1/3 the cost of regular retail.

There are just a few drawbacks to this quality gaming experience that should be mentioned. For starters, the load times in between chapters are quite long. Being that the game doesn't have very many chapters this not only takes you out of the adventure somewhat, but it also highlights the fact that it's a short game on its own. I also discovered that in Chapter 1, whenever you complete a puzzle you go through a hallway full of scanners which are relatively pointless, then you're smoothly transitioned into the next puzzle room. After Chapter 1 though that all stops as you hit a blue loading wall where your character freezes, and a blue loading screen is superimposed on top of what you can see, and this happens after every single room, so any sort of fluidity is not only set back but sometimes removed completely. Not the best way to go considering the game is short and you experience this numerous times.

Priced at $20, The Turing Test is so much more than just a puzzle game, a platforming game, or anything like that. It's a voyage into the morality and the complex nature of the human psyche and its development, construction, and more importantly management of true artificial intelligence. This game is worth every penny, even with a few bumps in the road. If you're a fan of puzzles, and appreciate a fantastic story laid out in beautiful graphic detail that is complimented by a soundtrack and soundscape that is of the top tier quality, then The Turing Test is an absolute must buy for you.

Suggestions: Being able to purchase the soundtrack separately please?

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy

Continuing the growing trend of previously released PC games being ported onto the Xbox One and sold for a premium price seems to have no end in sight. Recently Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy came to release on Xbox One over a year after it was released on PC. Priced at a whopping $24.95, the developer, Slitherine, is determined to have you paying almost half of full retail price for this turn based space strategy game. Now the only question is, should you? Let's find out.

Before I go forward, I have to severely stress that you should take some time and go through the tutorial, and even though it doesn't do a great job teaching you because of trying to map everything in the PC UI to a console controller with limited inputs, it will be a godsend to you down the road. I would also recommend playing early missions over again so you can get the feel for the game itself. Since the game will not let you go back to earlier missions, what I did was quit out before I had won the mission so that way I would get another chance to help overcome this incredibly steep learning curve. Anyways, now that the public service announcement is made, back to the game.

I have to make a note first hand that this game is way deeper than any casual gamer may first assume. You're given a 3D plane as your mission sandbox with each adventure. From there, the lackluster story has you performing menial tasks and very light combat so you can start to get a feel for the "WeGo" battle mechanics that are in place. It's more than your traditional RTS, and in fact, it's quite innovative and does a phenomenal job in helping to overcome the fact that the story is better left unsaid, because as you play through it, there isn't much in terms of meaningful development to keep the gamers hooked. But there is very in depth combat. Let me give you an example. At the beginning of the missions you map out your ships that you're going to bring with you which include everything from smaller corvette style ships, to mammoth battleships.

The preliminary ships that you get to manage in the beginning are your little raider ships which accompany a corvette. While the raider class ships focus on utilizing maneuverability and front firing lasers, the corvette manages to incorporate long range targeting missiles, that when impacted, will cause damage to any surrounding ships, so watch out. Then as you progress you will naturally unlock bigger ships such as frigates which are equipped with a stun beam on the front to disorient oncoming enemies, but a lifesaving disruptor that will detonate any enemy missile that gets within range so that it doesn't impact your fleet. Remember, LIFE SAVING.

Lastly you'll work your way to the heavy hitters, the battleship and dreadnought. I'm talking the titanic ships that not only pack the largest and most incredibly devastating firepower, but can also transport small fleets of ships that can be used as a secondary weapon or defensive system. Each ship not only carries with it a certain value for reinforcements, but also has its own independent weapons system, shield management system, navigation system, and more. Once you have your fleet assembled and kitted out, it's time to head into battle. As your fleet arrives your combat mission begins, and it's up to you to fulfill the mission objectives which usually involve you killing every enemy in this 3D sandbox. Now you'll thrust yourself deep into the real job of this game; system management. This is where the bulk of your game activity comes from.

You'll start your missions by plotting your ship's navigation routes. You'll see a wide arc in front of your ship which indicates where your ship can travel. Now instead of just left, right, and forward, you have control within an almost pure 180-degree field, and on top of all that, you have the ability to traverse up or down different planes within the 3D space. So now you have selected where your fleet will move within your turn, you can go to your weapon systems on each individual starship and configure how you want them to fire; either through a more randomized auto fire (which you can customize the nature of this action), or a more powerful concentrated fire (be careful though because some ships can't hit an enemy that flies behind them). Now with your flight plan made and your weapon systems are selected, its time to press the Y button which brings up the menu and you select GO to commence your turn. You'll watch your ships fly towards your targets as they in turn fly towards you. That's when the battle begins and your management tasks grow even deeper.

Another aspect you can also control is how you manage your ship's energy. Do you throw more into your weapons and draw that extra needed power from the engines so your ship doesn't travel as far per turn but hits harder? Or do you pour more power into shields and take the energy from your weapon systems or engines? Speaking of shields, you'll also have to manage your numerous sides of shields as well. Instead of just one all-encompassing shield that you have to manage, you have front, rear, and side shields to manage, and should your left shield drop to 0, then your ship is naturally weak on that side. to remedy this, you'll either have to repair it by launching a repair bot that will fix your ship at the cost of immobilizing it for a turn or two, or you can divert individual power from other shielded areas to resupply power to your now demolished shield. Now this is a small example of the sheer depth that you have to manage every turn and with every ship. Once you've navigated your way through your 3D sandbox and killed all your targets, you'll get a mission complete and rewarded based off your performance. Then it's onto the next sad chapter in the mediocre story.

One of the many things that was improved and tweaked for the console release are the graphics, and thank the good lord that they were because this game has some beauty in it. While there are other games that provide better interstellar graphics and environments, Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy does a great job in delivering some very beautiful celestial visuals. The soundtrack to this game though was a bit watered down for my taste. While it's good in the fact that my ears weren't bleeding, it wasn't memorable in any way. That's surprising to me because you would think that a game set in space would provide some form of atmospheric harmonics that help set the mood and the tone, but I didn't see that to be the case here.

Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy has a very, very deep learning curve, a gargantuan management system that has to be attended to in great detail with every turn, and a story that doesn't deliver an experience that makes you feel connected. I thought long and hard whether or not it justified its cost to gamers, and came to the conclusion that it didn't simply because of its high price point. I wish its price was set at $14.99, because that would be the perfect value for the content within. While the system and mechanics that are implemented are innovative, you get the feeling like there is so much packed into the game that your controller is about to burst and your console rupture trying to figure it out.

Overall Score: 7.6 / 10 Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

When Eidos Montreal set out to create the Deus Ex world, it's fair to say that they never knew just how big it could, or would, eventually become. Their last entry was Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which laid the ground work for their latest release Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Human Revolution received high marks and much acclaim, but the big question is: "Does the sequel, Mankind Divided, live up to or exceed its predecessor?" In our opinion the short answer would basically be yes, but there's so much to talk about, so let's jump right in!

For those who haven't played Deus Ex: Human Revolution, let me help set the stage so that the current game isn't so confusing. You played as Adam Jensen who was a cop, and along with his ex, worked for an human augmentation company called Sarif Industries. Sarif Industries was attacked, and during this attack Adam was left for dead. Looking back on that decision I'm sure the enemy regretted it because Sarif spared no expense in turning Adam into a walking augmented tank capable of exceptional feats of strength, agility, cunning, and so much more. The story was a weave of backstabbing and betrayal, accruing to a point that was a defining moment in mankind's history; however, Adam was again left for dead and there were more questions raised than were answered, which opened the door for the current title, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

In the years following the "incident" (seriously you need to play Human Revolution), mankind was torn apart. Decisions were made as different political and military factions were being created, while general citizens were caught in the crossfire. Starting out in Prague, you will see the effects of the divisive nature of politics in today's world, as Mankind Divided shows us a very similar nature of distrust and over-zealousness when it comes to discrimination, abuse, and neglect of the people who chose to become augmented. In fact, the game goes so far as to show you just how this outcome has effected everyone in their own way.

For example, one scene that sits in my memory is one where you'll watch as an augmented person in a refugee internment camp as he sits up against a wall with his head down. Look closely and you will notice in their hand is a pocket secretary that reads some heartfelt sentiments to this person's mother. This person admits that they should have listened to her and that their life has been torn in shambles since they decided to become augmented, and that the pain and sorrow that has been building and growing has reached a point where he wishes she was there to hold him and tell him that he was forgiven. The reply from his mother was equally as touching as she said to her son that all was forgiven and that she would give anything to have her son back with her and that he should never give up hope, for there is always hope. Then you realize that he took his own life.

It's moments like this that we rarely get to see in many genres. The emotional attachments that are made through the decisions and the outcome, and results, are those that spurn the mentality of the environment. These touches are absolutely brilliant on behalf of Eidos Montreal and truly help define the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided experience. Adam Jensen is back, and this time he's got questions that need answers. But just like in Human Revolution, every time you think you have an answer, more questions appear. This is why the story of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is truly exceptional and has to be experienced for yourself. Of course there will be times when you're going to say "called it!" or "I could see that coming."; however, it's what you don't see that makes the story truly exceptional.

Navigating through this world is solely up to you, no matter how you wish to play. Personally I chose to go through Deus Ex: Mankind Divided in a non-lethal play style, the way I played Human Revolution. Sure, you can take customizable sniper rifles, shotguns, assault rifles, battle rifles, and more into battle, shoot and kill everything that moves, and press on from checkpoint to checkpoint; however, the real challenge is trying to avoid killing a single person, which includes bosses (good luck with that). For instance, I tried to infiltrate a level 3 bank that was filled with security guards, turrets, security cameras, laser grids, and so much more. I walked in on the second floor and had to go to the third floor. Sounds simple right? Unfortunately, the entire third floor is a restricted area and your target is a secure computer system in an upper office guarded by a security camera, guards, and an internal encryption on the network that you'll have to hack. Ummmmmm, ok.

Now, having explored the the areas on second floor I could access, I ended up proceeding to the first floor where there were secure executive vaults, each one containing their own external security camera, laser grid, internal security camera with turret, and its own defense robot. This floor also contained a security office with 2 guards and multiple cameras. So, how did I make it to the top? Well, for starters I scavenged literally everywhere I could in Prague. I completed every side quest first, and using my hacking along with breaking & entering skills, I managed to acquire a key for one of the vaults down on the first floor. So I went down to the vault and after dealing with security I managed to go through the two cable ducts in the security server room and kept track of where each one led. Then, utilizing the ventilation system, I managed to work my way to the third floor and that's when things got tricky. I had to sneak my way into the bathroom to exploit a weakness in the wall that led to the other bathroom and more ventilation systems. From there I was just picking and choosing what, when, where, and how to strike and move since I was armed with a stun gun while my foes had combat rifles. Or like I said, you could go in there, lay waste to literally everything, and not worry about any restricted areas.

That's the beauty of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. The ability to choose how you want to experience the story is fantastic. From the extreme measures taken to not to kill anyone (the way I play it), a Terminator-Rambo style of brute force, or a mix of both; Deus Ex: Mankind Divided allows for true on the fly game adaptability and it's done brilliantly. Now, in order to manage all the hacking, shooting, and climbing, and anything else is left in the overall gameplay, you'll need to learn the controls and that's where Deus Ex: Mankind Divided also shines.

From the beginning you can choose what style of gameplay you want. You're offered very recognizable variants of traditional FPS control schemes to a control scheme that is very reminiscent of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, to one that has been developed just for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. All of these can be adjusted allowing you to find the one that feels just right for you. For my playthrough I selected the Mankind Divided option, not because it was the best one marketed at the selection screen, but I wanted to give this fresh game a fresh start and judge what they had developed specifically for this title.

For the most part I have to say that the control scheme is pretty easy to use. There is a bit of a learning curve that you will naturally go through as you progress during the game's prologue. For me personally, I found that the basic controls I preferred were pressing LS to enter and exit cover, pressing RS to bring up my quick inventory selection wheel where I would press the RT to use a health pack and LT to give my augments more juice. Since I never use my lethal weaponry I never really have to worry about selecting a weapon, but you'll notice that all your usable and consumable inventory options are displayed within this wheel.

As I played I ran into an issue that I noted early on, and it was while traversing through Prague and its buildings. I found that there were times where my character refused to jump as high, or grab a ledge, which caused me to fall off a building roof to my untimely death. These moments happened a little more than I'd like them to, and regretfully it made some of the game feel underdeveloped and rushed in that department, which if I'm honest, is a big department to have a fault with.

That's sadly not the only faults as well. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a sensational display of graphics on the last generation systems; however, you don't really get the sense of ground breaking work in Mankind Divided. During some of the animated sequences, if there was any movement in the frame, I experienced screen tearing like crazy, which didn't really didn't help the experience at all. Not only that, but the animation for the characters talking is nowhere near what you would expect from a current generation game. The whole graphics interface almost feels like it was developed using technology for the Xbox 360. Thankfully though Michael McCann is back at the helm for the soundtrack, keeping with the last Deus Ex quality, which is absolutely incredible. The soundtrack to Deus Ex: Human Revolution personally ranks in my top 5 soundtracks of all time with Mankind Divided already within my top 10. The sound environments as a whole are also masterfully done and you can easily see the quality in the audio work that went into this game.

I would love to tell you more about this game, but as I'm sitting here typing this up I'm realizing that it's taking time away from digging deeper into what I may have missed. Without question Deus Ex: Mankind Divided deserves to be in the running for Game of the Year at this point. Yes, it has its drawbacks, but despite the faults and flaws you still have an absolutely brilliant game. From a masterfully designed plot with twists and turns, a musical score and audio environment that is one of the best you could hear, to an emotional development of the narrative content on a psychological level, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is one of the best games for 2016 so far.

Suggestions: A vinyl soundtrack where the vinyl is the color of Adam Jensen's glasses! :)

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Valentino Rossi: The Game

For those that may or may not know, I'm an avid racing fanatic and I honestly can't get enough. From F1, to WRC, to MotoGP, and GT, if it has an engine and tires, I'm interested. Over the years there has been a tremendous leap forward when it comes to the development of car racing on the Xbox platform, but sadly I haven't seen the same quality leap for motorcycle racing. Recently developer Milestone S.r.l has come out with Valentino Rossi: The Game, which not only hopes to revitalize the MotoGP racing genre, but also show gamers that you don't need a AAA budget to put together a quality racing title. Ambitious goals, but do they actually achieve them? Grab your helmet and keys because the ride is on.

Starting on your adventure you'll want to customize your rider. Some may overlook this feature and just skip right into the meat of racing, but customizing unlocks achievements down the road, so just spend a few minutes to go over the limited selection in front of you. Sure, you can switch up your nickname and number, but remember, the customization options are purely cosmetic so there's no real reason to spend any sort of in-game currency unless you really want to unlock a certain helmet, pair of boots, gloves, etc. Once you have completed your customization you're whisked away into the beginning of a lengthy career path, and that's when you start to notice how this game is rapidly growing into a quality racing simulator.

During the career mode you'll experience the race calendar along with various options such as email and the "feed" on the right hand side where the game tries it's best to compliment you on your racing. Other options are also available, but I found myself focused on getting through the career of races so the rest of the "fluff" that comes packaged in the career became irrelevant very rapidly. Starting off though, Valentino Rossi: The Game sticks you on a flat dirt track where you start to get a feel for the physics and handling of the game as you progress you work your way up to the powerful MotoGP bikes. I was actually very thankful for this because the more powerful virtual motorbikes stretch the new physics engine to the breaking point. I say new because it's new to the game; however, the physics engine itself feels dated and it isn't the the most responsive one I have experienced.

Outside of the career mode though, Valentino Rossi: The Game offers other game types such as split screen and online multiplayer, time trials, historic events within Valentino's career, and more. I tip my cap to the developers because it's clear that they want to give gamers a plethora of content to choose from instead of just giving a bare bones single player career, a bit of online content, then slap a full retail priced sticker on the box and say "here you go". While this is great on the surface, there are some issues that should be noted. For example, multiplayer matches are almost impossible to find in all my time trying. That being said, I think that once the bugs get ironed out, and the quality improves with a hopefully new title next year, we will see the market share grow for this genre of racing.

Now I have to admit I am not the best when it comes to controlling bikes at high speed; virtually speaking of course. Gone are the times of kicking on the E brake and power sliding through a corner, as now I'm faced with knees to the pavement and getting the angle of my lean just right so I don't go flying across the track flat on my back. Thankfully there are a multitude of options to adjust on the fly, which also includes your riding position to help you stay on your bike. Being that this is a simulator and not arcade racer, you can't expect to take a hairpin turn at 110 mph and expect to just bounce off the sides and be ok. Not only will you have to balance your throttle response, but you'll also have to focus on your body weight position and figuring how much to use front and rear brakes if you want to avoid becoming a stain on the tarmac. And yes, in other racing games there are far more options to adjust, but the fact that you even get some options to adjust is a positive. I do recommend that you take a few minutes to check out the control options and become familiar with not just the bike controls, but the car ones as well. Yes, you heard me correctly. Cars are now in Valentino Rossi: The Game.

This is where things get really interesting because normally it would just be a slag of GP bikes and a boring career and multiplayer matches that no one ever plays anyway, but not this title. You're given a chance to experience the thrill of drift and rally racing as well which is a nice change from straight motorbike races. These additions really help give this game more value by adding more content. The steering however could use some improvement in the handling aspect, so you may find yourself hitting the LB to instigate a rewind, because I guarantee you that the learning curve of this physics engine is up there, and not because of its realism, but because of its age. Sadly, the physics engine isn't the only aged beauty of this game, as that honor falls into the graphics department as well.

The key to a good racing experience is a fluid frame rate, unfortunately this isn't the case here. Valentino Rossi: The Game tries to be as smooth as glass, but the last generation graphics lag and drop the framerate to almost a still picture now and then. Hopefully there will be a patch that can smooth things out, but as of right now these instances can be quite frustrating as you find yourself in the middle of balancing for a turn and then the screen jutters and lags, only to lurch forward after skipping a few frames as it catches up to the animation where hopefully you're still in control of your bike. Normally at this point I would also address the quality of the soundtrack of the game, but it is incredibly flat and uninteresting, so let's move on. I understand the theory that the developers were going with; however, they had far better technology at their disposal. Even though it may have delayed the game while adjusting to the new technology, the game would have been far superior than what we are witnessing today.

I have to say that Valentino Rossi: The Game was quite a surprise for me. I went into this game with low expectations given the sad history of the downward spiral of quality MotoGP games as a whole, but I walked away having enjoyed it more than I expected. Sure, it has some noticeable issues now and then, but they don't always kill the game's fun factor. In the end, if you're a fan of motorbike bike racing, or the MotoGP series as a whole, then you're in for a fairly decent game, just don't expect a perfect racing experience.

Overall Score: 7.3 / 10 Breach and Clear: Deadline

The summer is winding down, and thankfully so are the mediocre games that have been flooding to the Xbox One. Trying to shoot its way out of this common scenario, Breach & Clear: Deadline breaks onto Microsoft's console for the price of $14.99. At the time of this review the developer, Mighty Rabbit Studios, had released a patch that was supposed to resolve a lot of the technical issues that were around at launch. Now, normally when we get information like this it gives us a hint about what we are about to get ourselves into, but I decided to dive head first and kick the door down on this game to see what's what.

Breach and Clear: Deadline is an action RPG with both real time and turn based gameplay. With the press of the LB you can switch between real time action or a turn based gameplay style, and right off the bat I can say that I was very happy about this option, even if the platform is incredibly straightforward. You control a group of four individuals and you can designate each of their classes. Each class carries with it variable stats, ratings, and skills, and it's your choice how you want to play, but remember, only a medic can revive your fallen teammates.

The game's story is simplistic, which was kind of disappointing. The crux of the narrative has you fighting through stage after sandbox stage in an attempt to save humanity. What are you saving humanity from? Well, you're defending the human race from a parasite worm that can apparently attach itself to your brain stem and mutate you into a mindless killing machine.

Breach and Clear: Deadline manages to spice up the simplistic narrative by adding in a few new fetch quests and side objectives for you to complete. In the end however, there isn't anything worthwhile that makes the story compelling for those who play, which made for a somewhat non-entertaining experience. This area is kind of a downfall, but when you take into account that this game wasn't intended to be very story intensive, then you can cut it some slack, because in the end there are quite a few things that this game has going for it, with its controls being one of them.

As stated earlier, using the LB allows you to switch between real time and turn based strategy. When you're in real time the RB will bring up a radial menu where you can have different items mapped out. These can range from your basic med kits to stat boosting items such as energy drinks and more. These can all be accessed on the fly and each character class has different options in their real time radial wheel, so selecting them not only is easy, but important when you think about what's at stake. Switching into the turn based mode however will unlock more options that will be at your disposal. Options such as find cover, switch weapon, and more, become unlocked and the game turns instantly into a tactical turn based experience.

In this mode you can select a wide variety of options if you want to operate one soldier at a time, or you can press the X button and proceed as a team and issue orders accordingly. This is where tactics come into play, as some classes also allow you to breach doorways, which will knock back enemies and injure anyone caught in the blast. When you're controlling your men individually, pressing left and right on the D-Pad will allow you to quickly select between your characters. From here you can point to a spot relative to their line of sight, and if you place your cursor behind an object, you will see a shield sign that indicates your character is moving behind cover. This allows two ways you can go about moving.

Normal movement in this mode is simple, as you place the cursor on where you want to move and simply press; however, you can also have your characters go into what is called "sweep mode". By holding down the A button you will allow your character(s) to move slower, but they will engage any enemy within their viewing range (which you can setup with the RS).

Breach and Clear: Deadline claims to have RPG elements, and while it definitely does have them, it's not as deep as you might expect or hope for. Throughout the missions, and in-game exploration, you will collect scrap. This is the game's form of currency, and at workbenches you can upgrade your weapons, gear, and more. Different stats can also be increased by means of upgrade slots. Now, it should be noted that Breach and Clear: Deadline consists of a common color scheme to determine the rarity of the items. When it comes to weapons the basic fields are Damage, Range, Accuracy, and Reload speed. These are the primary factors that will be altered when you either spend scrap to upgrade a weapon, equip them with modifications (such as under barrel grips and scopes), or you do both. It's not too much to take in, which is good because it allows you to spend more time killing everything else that you see.

Originally Breach and Clear: Deadline had some visual bugs and issues to contend with; however, throughout my experience I can safely report that outside of a few dodgy camera angles, there isn't that much that would be considered game breaking. There were some hiccups and glitches in terms of framerate drops, but all in all it was a fairly solid graphic experience post patch. The soundtrack on the other hand left a lot to be desired. Going for a minimalist approach would be a good thing, if the minimal audio content was actually good. There isn't anything that would make you set your controller down and take notice.

Without a doubt there are some very enjoyable elements in Breach and Clear: Deadline; however, there are a few things to note. The $14.99 price point is on the high side for a game that came out over a year ago on PC, and while it's not that long ago when you consider some other ID@Xbox games, it's still on the aged side. And sure, the game delivers some enjoyment, but that enjoyment comes with a simplistic story, tedious side quests, and dungeons that feel like the same level over and over again. At $14.99 I would say pass on this, however, should this drop in price to say $9.99 or below then pick it up for sure and bust down some doors.


Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Marvel Ultimate Alliance Bundle

One of the biggest trends we see in gaming in today's world is companies re-releasing older quality IP's at a discounted rate to the consumer on the most current gaming platforms. In doing this, it's typical fashion for the gaming world to receive a remade or enhanced copy of the game itself. Recently an old classic, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and Ultimate Alliance 2, were recently released for the Xbox One. Once on the cutting edge of what we could expect on the Xbox 360, these games received rave reviews, and the DLC made this entertaining experience even better. This release is priced at $39.99 + tax per game, or you can save $20 by getting a bundle at $59.99 + tax. Without a doubt that is a steep price tag, but is it worth it?

Before we dive in, I have to confess that I'm a huge Marvel fan. I bought both these games on the Xbox 360 and loved what they brought to the table back in the day. Well, for those who aren't familiar with these games, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 1 and 2 are top down action RPG titles that enable you to select a team of 4 to venture forth on a storyline fit for the Marvel Universe itself. I don't want to say much about the story because it's one of the great features that make up the heart and soul of these games, but let's say it involves the end of mankind, an alliance of villains, and a whole lot of overacting. There is a problem in this package though, in that the DLC for Ultimate Alliance 1 is nowhere to be found, but yet for some weird reason Ultimate Alliance 2 has all the DLC included. Let me break that down really quickly.

$39.99 for Ultimate Alliance, a game that is almost a decade (10 years) old and that does not provide any DLC content. Or $39.99 for Ultimate Alliance 2 with all the DLC content provided. That's essentially what you're looking at here with these two games. Thankfully Activision has stated that the DLC will release for Ultimate Alliance as a free update, but details as to when are not much more than "coming soon". I'm sure this was a simple oversight, however, I would think that maybe adjusting the price point accordingly until the DLC is released would provide some assistance to helping mend some really broken fences with the gaming world. Will that happen? Who knows. Any who, let's press on shall we?

As I just mentioned these are action RPG games, and with a long extensive list of possible super heroes and villains, your selection of available powers and talents (which have to be unlocked by leveling up your character) is truly deep and provides incredible ways of using your character's skills. As you progress through the levels and break and destroy everything, you'll unlock coins to which you can spend learning and improving skills and abilities. It's fairly straight forward which is nice, but you will be farming for a very long time if you want to max out every ability possible.

When these games first launched almost a decade ago, the play control was very good despite some issues with the camera, and the same gameplay mechanics carries over to the Xbox One version, however it almost feels like this game received absolutely nothing in terms of tweaked or improved controls. Your RS operates your camera while the LS controls your character movement. You have a weak attack (A button) and a strong attack (B button) and utilizing the RT you can access abilities that are mapped to various face buttons. When you break it down, it's fairly simplistic controls. Now this doesn't mean it's a bad thing, however, it just means it's a lazy thing. Is it that time consuming and resource hungry to simply improve the responsiveness of the controls or maybe, just maybe, improve the camera system? I say this because you also feel that this game is also under powered when it comes to its graphics; and you know what? It is.

When the first Ultimate Alliance and Ultimate Alliance 2 came out, they were a fantastic graphic release by combining amazing cinematic cut scenes that almost felt like you were watching some CGI Hollywood spectacle, and tremendous character models that seemed incredibly detailed and sporting their own individual personality. The sequel continued this trend, and together both of the Ultimate Alliance games became staples that developed a cult following. Thankfully all of this is included in this release, however, if you were expecting an HD remake, you're going to be sorely disappointed. I feel it's important though to make a note that the developers warned the gaming public ahead of time to not expect a remastered version, but rather "touched up" for the current generation systems. And this is where the crux of the problems resides.

What "touch up" were they talking about? It literally feels like I stepped back in time back to October 2006 and as if nothing was done to provide any significant benefit or improvement. However, they are asking $20 below original retail price, yet I could go to GameStop now and buy a used Xbox 360 copy for $9.99 of Ultimate Alliance; or I could spend $40 for this Xbox One version. The games would be almost 100% identical, and that's what confused me the most. After much deliberation I know what the real mistake of this release was. It was the cost.

Even though the developers told us not to expect really any enhancements with this release, they priced their game right out of the market, especially when they neglected to include the DLC. I can't deny that the games are good, however, there's too much going against it to say that a $40 price point is worthwhile for little to no improvements over the decade old original. I could see a price point of $9.99 and let these games sell all night long, but with everything factored in, this is a textbook case of a straight cash grab, even though the game itself is great. Save your money until they go on a big sale.


Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Dungeon Punks

Well, it's approaching the end of summer, and while some are getting ready to hit the books again Xbox has decided to release some more games they hope are top tier indie titles. One of these games comes by the way of Dungeon Punks from the folks at Hyper Awesome Entertainment. Priced at $14.99 it's only $5 less than other RPG indie games, but the question remains: "What comes with that semi-hefty price tag?"

Dungeon Punks is labeled as an action RPG that provides hours of fun and entertainment. It allows you to control parties of up to six fantasy characters as you set off on your quest for adventure and riches. What you just read is more in-depth than the entire story of Dungeon Punks. You spend your time jumping from job to job, all the while causing so much trouble and commotion that you are forced to flee to the next area in the game. With a heavy emphasis on humor, the execution of the story itself isn't entertaining or top quality, as it would rather focus itself on tongue and cheek chuckles rather than a substantial story that makes gamers want to find out more. Ultimately what this boils down to is a game that is a basic hack and slash side scrolling 2.5D title with what some might see as an anemic amount of RPG elements.

Starting out you select your character. While each one offers different spells and abilities, the entire crux of the whole character selection is based on deciding if you want to wield the steel or sling some spells, and all the while trying to balance out the bonuses and deductions that your character may have. For example, I decided to play as a Knight since it's the most balanced in terms of physical with a +10% to attack and -10% to defense. These RPG elements are fairly thin and stretch in very limited form to encompass both your weapons and shields. Each of those items come in your traditional RPG scaling, with white items being the weakest and yellow items being Rare. Along with some RPG elements there are some weapons that come with unique spells and abilities that be activated by pressing the X and A buttons together.

There isn't much to manage in terms of statistical categories, so think of this as very, very light RPG. After creating your character you begin your quest and find yourself on your airship, and it's from here that you can purchase/equip/sell items from the store or upgrade your spells. As you progress you'll unlock new characters to join your party, and at the back of the airship you can switch to whoever you want via the RB and LB while you're standing right below the character you want to control.

I was surprised to see that there is no Xbox Live connectivity. So, you and your legion on your friends list cannot play this game together, online that is. You can play together if you decide that social interaction is warranted and you hit up your friend’s couch for some local co-op. This type of thinking is about as useful as a screen door on the hull of a boat. In today's world you can't expect to slap together a game with only local multiplayer and not expect to get dinged for it. The developers though, have thought this through and instead of online teammates they fill your team with random AI controlled characters. While this can seem like a good idea, I'm sure all of us who are reading this understand why having human interaction is preferred over clumsy AI. Thankfully you can switch in-between characters on the fly by pressing the LB or RB. You're not told or shown this in any way, but that's because of the gameplay. And speaking of which...

It's simple in nature, yet since nothing is ever taught to you, let me help you out on some basics. First you have to hit start and go into settings and look for something to click on that turns movement by the analog stick ON. Don't ask me why they have it defaulted to only allow the D-Pad for movement. I personally think that the option to turn analog stick movement ON or OFF shouldn't even be an option, it should just naturally be included. You use the A button to swing your weapon, the Y button is assigned to use any consumable item you find in the level, and the X button and/or LS is combined with other buttons and assigned the task of unleashing your spells after you acquire mana. How do you do that? By beating the crap out of every enemy you find. After a few hits you'll get a pop up bubble of sorts that says mana charged and you then decide how you want to use it. As you progress, and you build your team up, you'll gain access to control new characters which will allow you to utilize new abilities and spells.

It's not all misery though for Dungeon Punks. The graphics are very clean and have a cartoonish feel to them, but the real bit of graphical joy comes from using some of the various spells and abilities. For example, there's an ability that the Werewolf (I'm calling him a clone of Saberwulf) has where he howls and multiple beams of energy strike down from above which target several enemies. These dynamic spells fill the screen with excitement, and thankfully you can utilize them quite frequently. Even though the graphics are decent, the sound is the surprising gem in this game. Every level and every moment is reprodced in a sonic surprise that is a delight to the ears and really makes playing Dungeon Punks an enjoyable experience.

Now comes the big question: "Is it worth the $14.99 + tax price tag?" I would pick it up in a heartbeat if it were $9.99, but currently I'm making the $14.99 price decision your call. I understand that there's no online multiplayer, and yes the campaign is short and not overly engaging; however, what Dungeon Punks does is make almost every moment of the game enjoyable, even with those issues I mention above. If you can rationalize that there is more to Dungeon Punks than the faults and flaws, you'll see that there is a quality job in paying homage to a classic gametype that hasn't seen much use in years.

Suggestions: Please release a patch or update that will allow for online connections via Xbox Live.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Sword Coast Legends

Before the days of cartridges, discs, and digital downloads, and before the days when we picked up a controller to play a game, there was Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). It's an IP that harkens back to the days when dice were thrown (I still have mine all wrapped up in a velvet bag), Dungeon Masters quashed dreams, and we relied on our ability to roll necessary saves. Dungeons & Dragons paved the way. We are talking about creating fantasy worlds and legends decades before Bioware was even invented. Now Dungeons & Dragons is back on the Xbox One with the release of Sword Coast Legends, and while it's priced at the top end of the indie scale ($19.99), the developers Digital Extremes and n-Space are attempting to bring the lore of D&D back to life.

If you're thinking that this game is going to be your classic D&D then you're going to be disappointed. Sword Coast Legends suffers from what I would call a severe case of identity crisis. That's not to say things are bad, but to say that this is a pure D&D experience is a debunked myth. As you begin you're tasked to create your own character. Here you can select from a combined total of seven classes and six races, each bringing their own set of unique bonuses and proficiencies to the table. However, each character also has several skill trees from which to draw talents from and this is where the whole separation seems to begin as you start to think of this more like Dragon Age. Once you have your character selected and made the way you want, it's time to get into the real meat of this 17GB adventure.

In this behemoth of a game you are offered a few gametypes, though of course there is the massive single player story which can also be played cooperatively online or locally. This mode offers up a tale that not only is well written, but provides at least 40+ hours of content and will get you used to Sword Coast Legends. While the pacing of the story is good, the wealth of side quests will keep you busy, and the fact that this mode really does provide the best experience of the game, the issue that I have here exists not with the quality of the content, but the loading times associated with venturing between areas in the game. With seemingly over a minute in-between each loading sequence, you get the feeling that you could go catch some Pokemon while you wait for the game to load. You almost feel the game loads all 17GB of data every time you go to another area. It really becomes this game's biggest downfall, almost to the point where it becomes unbearable.

The other gametypes include your basic dungeon crawler where you go after loot, glory, and more loot. Then Sword Coast Legends tries to do something unique and allow you to step into the shoes of the Dungeon Master (DM) itself. This mode allows you to take up to four other people (totaling 5 in the lobby) and create a quest from which you have to decide if you want to be a fair DM, or one that is cursed by all and burned in effigy. This mode, while fun, has fairly limited resources at its disposal, and you use the resources called Threat to place traps, enemies, and more. When you take into account that the DM cannot alter the story and is forced, along with all the players, to take a direct route despite the choices made by the players, this mode can feel a bit restrained and under developed.

After you decide what mode you're going to want to play and dive into the game itself you'll be very happy to read the timed pop up instructional directions. Think of the gameplay mechanics mapped to the controller, where X, Y, and B are all mapped to abilities that you can learn from your skill trees, and the A button is for generic interaction/attacking. Then using Right Trigger, you can have a second set of four skills at your disposal, while using Left Trigger you can have a third similar blank set of four to work with. And finally, if you press in the Left and Right triggers you can bring up your consumable menu (time isn't halted in this mode) and have access to a whole new menu. This is how the developers have compacted the long list of skills available on the PC platform into a console controller. Pressing the back button will allow you to pause time where you can not only issue commands to your team (which you can also do on the fly using the D-Pad), but access inventory and much more. You will also want to familiarize yourself with the entire menu system altogether.

Being able to equip items to your other party members, as well as develop their skill trees, is all nice and fun, however you have to realize that in some menus the left stick can act as a selector which switch from left to right sides of the screens, while the Left and Righter Bumpers can be used in some screens to cycle through your heroes in your party. This is a clunky setup, and while I understand the reasoning for trying to literally cram everything in terms of gameplay into a controller layout instead of becoming innovative on the console roll out, I still can't excuse that. I can comprehend the resources needed by a company to essentially remake a game with a different UI; however, with a vast amount of resources that are already being used, the time is significantly lower in development and at a cost that is marginal, of which you could easily charge $39.99. Outside of the God awful loading times, this compact controller layout becomes incredibly frustrating.

While the negatives seem to keep piling up, there are a few bright spots as we wind our way home on this review. The graphics feel incredibly dated but this is either a deliberate art style or because this game released October 2015? Regardless of the reason, the graphics in Sword Coast Legends aren't anything you're going to find spectacular, but I have seen worse. Thankfully this mediocrity is broken up by the soundtrack. I'll never forget the first time I heard the soundtrack kick in. I had been listening to decent voice acting and sound effects like crazy, but then I heard this almost Celtic melody start to creep through my speakers and it literally haunted me. I absolutely fell in love with this and want to actually say thank you to everyone involved with the sound of Sword Coast Legends. However, amidst all this enjoyment I was also thoroughly let down. Not because of the quality of audio, but the sheer lack of times you hear it. It almost feels like 3-5 minutes pass in-between this wonderful music and every time it ends, you feel a little deader inside.

Normally I'm a very hard critic when it comes to games priced at $19.99 which are ported over from the PC, as I look at it as entertainment versus the value. As a quality Dungeon & Dragons game, I feel Sword Coast Legends falls short to what we have grown to expect from games such as Baldur's Gate; however, do I feel that this game is a quality gaming experience? Without a doubt, yes. That being said, if you're looking for a genuine Dungeons & Dragons experience, then there are better choices for you, but if you're looking for a quality 40+ hour single player experience along with co-op and multiplayer dungeon crawling options, look no further.

Suggestions: Please shorten the loading times. Also maybe look into innovating the UI in ways found from other games such as Diablo? And please, in the name of everything that is Holy on this planet, please release a soundtrack and make the soundtrack more frequent.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Dad Beat Dads

One of the most popular concepts within gaming today is the concept of fighting. Be it a one versus one match or a free-for-all group brawl, fighting games have become a staple in the gaming world. Now enter Stellar Jay Studios and their latest game, Dad Beat Dads. Clearly from the title of the game you already know that this is probably some Freudian subliminal messaging, but I'm not here to play Maury to some developers and their tainted past, I'm here to review their game, so let's go and give it the old' one-two shall we?

And that's about as much humor and lighthearted attitude as I can muster. You see, Dad Beat Dads is priced at $5.99 and appears to be a comical low budget clone of Super Smash Bros. Now, with such a popular and successful game you would think that the developers would draw from the basics of the team fighting arena concept right? Wrong. First off, this game requires only local multiplayer, so no Xbox Live multiplayer for you; however, you can have AI bots, so I guess that's something good? In my opinion, in this day and age it's almost blasphemy to gamers if you don't allow online connectivity. Gone are the days where we would venture to our friend’s house and spend hours on the couch, floor, or chair, just to partake in gaming excitement.

I don't have to really worry about giving the story away because there isn't one. None. But what you do get are three different game modes to select from which are Corporate Ladder, Smash N' Grab, and Diaper Sniper.

Corporate Ladder is where you basically punch and smash your way upward through various levels as the screen scrolls upward, and you have to gather as many coins as you can while continuously jumping to higher platforms and beating the crap out of other dads. The winner is the one with the most coins when the timer runs out. It really doesn't get much simpler than that. Then comes Smash N' Grab.

Smash N' Grab is, in Disney terms, disturbing. It involves you punching and fighting other dads, causing them to drop their babies as you steal them and take their baby back through your Dad Door. You get 1 point for every baby you bring through your door, after of course you steal them by beating the crap out of other dads. Going through this I felt relieved to know that I'm not the most screwed up person out there. So I took it as a sign of personal growth and decided to move onto game mode number three which then made me almost want to stage an intervention with the developers.

Finally, nothing says fighting dads and fun like wrapping a big red brick in a diaper and hurling it towards other virtual dads in a knockout elimination style brawl, hence the mode name Diaper Sniper. 4 dads and 1 diaper fight it out, and as time progresses, more diapers are added which means that towards the end there's nothing but brick laden diapers flying everywhere. Provided you have some friends to come over and actually WANT to play this type of game. If you do, then I suggest you all gather at your nearest psychiatrist's office and schedule an immediate session.

You get to pick what dad you want, and you have the option to play a cute little acknowledgement mini-game where after you pick your character, you get to either beat or destroy something and then jump through a door and bam, you're ready to play the main game. If you don't want to play this mini-game you can head on into the settings and "flip a switch" so all you need to do is press A to progress. The choice is yours. When you get in the fight, the controls are simplistic; pretty much on the primate level. Your left and right sticks do very little outside of controlling the direction of your character and your other buttons do other things, but honestly there's not much else here to explain at all.

That is the entire game right there folks, and all for $5.99 plus tax. Not all is doom and gloom though, as there are some upsides to this game, if you can call them that. You get your basic stereotypical dad fighter categories, from construction workers to accountants, but then you get ones that are way out there such as a shark dad or a crocodile dad? Yes, you can pick your character to be a crocodile or shark who runs around the levels beating the crap out of other dads. Apparently there's a reason for a shark or crocodile dads punching and thieving and slinging diapers? I haven't got the foggiest clue.

The visual style is humorous and cartoonish which provides some levity and delay to the fact that you just blew $6 on this when you could have bought something else instead. If you are thinking that the soundtrack will inject some form of resurgence of entertainment back into this $5.99 title, you're going to get used to disappointment. If you're thinking of spending your money on this game, I urge you to take 10 deep breaths and think. Food to keep you alive costs less and tastes delicious. Dad Beat Dads is nothing but a psychological session of depression, but without any hope of recovery. I've never done this in a review before, but there literally isn't anything else worthwhile to say about this game, so you sane gamers out there should stay clear if you can.

Suggestions: At the very least include Xbox Live Multiplayer.

Overall Score: 3.5 / 10 Cast of the Seven Godsends - Redux

Continuing the trend of retro gaming, Raven Travel Studios has recently released Cast of the Seven Godsends on the Xbox One. Originally launched on the PC back in July 2015, Raven Travel Studios has attempted to capture the fun, enjoyment, and frustration of 2D side scrolling action set back in the 16 Bit era. With a heavy homage to some of the greatest 2D side scrolling games ever created, and priced at $6.99, I decided to take this game for a spin, which ended up becoming a bit of a crash.

On the outside, Cast of the Seven Godsends checks all the right boxes that would signify that this game will take you back into your glory years of gaming with its retro feel; or if you're a young person who thinks a PS2 is an antique, then this is a glimpse of what gaming was like before you were born. What we see on the surface is stellar 16-bit retro gaming graphics and magic spells flying all over the screen; things even start to seem a little rosy. It appears that Cast of the Seven Godsends is almost like playing a modern rendition of Ghost 'n Goblins or Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts that's been cross bred with games like Shinobi and Contra; however, when you actually experience it, it's a completely different story. And speaking of story...

You play the role of Kandar, who apparently is this king somewhere, and one night in his castle while just sort of hanging out with your wife and new born child, a bunch of demons appear alongside their demon lord and kidnap your child for use in some form of satanic ritual. Armed with determination and a need to punish your A button, you set off in pursuit, but you're not alone because you have the support of the Seven Gods (Ice, Fire, Wind, etc.). It's through these gods that you, as Kandar, will master devastating magic, and you'll need them because right from the beginning, Cast of the Seven Godsends doesn't play around.

Sporting a dynamic control scheme of only 2 buttons, you can only do two things: throw objects and jump (that seems a bit restrictive but who am I to judge a king?). You can throw projectiles, which range from axes, swords, daggers, maces, and more, above and below so your not completely hindered in this fight, but there are times you'll find instances where the controls seem to lag a hair or two behind the input, forcing you to almost have to predetermine your path and plan your route. This would be ok, but unfortunately there are hardly any places throughout the game that you can just stop and observe without being attacked. Just like in the golden era of gaming, you start off very meager for strength and armor, but you can obtain God-like suits that will grant you new abilities and attacks, both on the physical and magical side. Each suit can unleash a devastating attack or ability by holding down the A button until your character is charged up, then by releasing the button you'll annihilate your opponents.

The rules of the game are simple, survive and kill everything as you go from point A to point B. Along the way you will notice in-game checkpoints, which are fantastic because you will die a lot; however, they do not save your game. You will actually have to physically do that, and even then the game save does not include the checkpoint data. Basically what I'm saying is that if you lose a life, you're back at the checkpoint, but should you have to use a continue though, it's back to the beginning of the level you go. While I understand that is how the games in the past used to be, and that staying true to the style means developing it this way, that doesn't make it any less annoying or frustrating because it was still annoying and frustrating back then as well. This doesn't bode well given the control responsiveness issues mentioned earlier.

It's not all doom and gloom for Cast of the Seven Godsends though, because if you enjoy retro gaming graphics, this title has you covered in spades. Incredible static imagery backdrops blanket each level, and with a wide variety of enemies you can almost hear the 80's roaring back as you play. This is in part due to the heavy retro synth filled soundtrack that strives to partner along with the visuals to deliver a classic gaming experience, and boy does it ever. What I truly enjoyed the most about this was selecting what God power I wanted and then letting loose with a fully charged shot as some of the effects reminded me of those days back in the Shinobi era and more. While this is good, sadly it can't help the quality of execution from Cast of the Seven Godsends.

If you're into the controller breaking frustration of the classic Ghost 'n Goblins or Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, then Cast of the Seven Godsends is right up your alley. This game will make you literally stress test an Xbox Elite Controller to the breaking point, but yet when you beat one of the mid bosses, or one of the massive level bosses, you're filled with such euphoria it's like you won the lotto. While the visuals are good and are complimented well with the music, the environments don't seem that well developed and the issues with the gameplay, even though the controls are quite simplified, hinder this game. You would think that this would have been addressed before launching on a console, but they sadly weren't. That being said, at the end of the day, for $6.99 you really can't go wrong as despite the flaws and insane difficulty, as Cast of the Seven Godsends provides a classic nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Ethan: Meteor Hunter

Here at XboxAddict I take my role as a reviewer seriously. I think of myself as a guide, if you will, that honestly tells you if a game is worth your hard earned money. Seaven Studio has recently released their latest puzzle game titled Ethan: Meteor Hunter. Priced at $9.99, the 'official' PR spin is that it is a result of Super Meat Boy meeting Braid. They also claim that you may die repeatedly and enjoy it. Oh boy. Stating something like this is pretty risky, and while the $9.99 price point is nice for a quality puzzle game, the main question still remains: Does Ethan: Meteor Hunter warrant a purchase?

On the outside everything seems promising from the beginning. Ethan: Meteor Hunter boils down to a simple story where players learn that sometimes a war between neighbors can produce catastrophic results. You play as a rat named Ethan, and apparently your neighbor has just demolished your house. If that wasn't bad enough, cascading down from the sky are many meteors, one of which hits your recently destroyed home (I guess when it rains it pours). You emerge from the pile of rubble with the ability to manipulate objects and pause time (this would be the Braid influence). Fearing for his life, your neighbor takes off and now you are forced to jump, climb, and manipulate time in an attempt to venture through more than 50 puzzle levels to go after him. It's not a bad story by any means, but nothing that makes you sit back and take a deep breath as you absorb the plot. Of course none of this matters if you can't manage to control your character.

Using your sticks to move, and the A button to jump, overall the control is fairly responsive, which makes it a bit easier for you to get through the game as a whole. It's your job to guide Ethan through the puzzles in the levels, but the real innovation comes in the form of your ability to pause time. Here you can grab a hold of various items and objects within a predetermined space and manipulate them however you want, the catch is that you can't just pause time whenever you want.

You first have to find blue coins that grant you the ability to pause time, and only then can you use the power as many times as you have coins. There is a huge problem with this aspect, and that is when you grab your items within the puzzle space the controls are overly sensitive and you find yourself manipulating puzzles like you just had 6 shots of espresso and you haven't slept in a week. I do appreciate the ability to find numerous solutions for the various puzzles, and having that variety has saved me more times than I can recount, but this over exaggerated control scheme, while time is paused, is one of the game's flaws.

Another issue is that many times during my gameplay experience when I dropped out of the time pause mode I realized that I could not go back into it to solve the puzzles forcing me to restart, which is where the whole Super Meat Boy reference comes into play. You're going to die a lot. And I'm not just saying this to try and dissuade you from purchasing or playing it, you will die over and over and over again which is why you are given the whole Super Meat Boy reference that they provide.

Ethan: Meteor Hunter tries to keep you entertained by providng you numerous checkpoints that act as your 'instant respawn center'. The good thing about this is that you don't have to replay entire levels all over again if you die towards the end. The bad thing, however, is that to get to the end you will die many, many times from many, many things. Heck, the dev-team claims that you're actually going to enjoy killing Ethan over and over again, and I can tell you that I am a prime example of a contrasting opinion to that very statement. Is the misery over? I wish.

You should also know that the game was released as a PS3 title back in October 2013, so the game is technically a few months shy of 3 years in age. With this in mind, you might just be able to see where this is going in terms of the visuals. Braid actually looked amazing when it released, it won awards for its 2D retro gaming style graphics whereas Ethan: Meteor Hunter looks confused as a game. It's as though it wants to deliver some stunning artwork, yet it wants to be comical and lighthearted in it's over the top delivery, but it doesn't do that good of a job combining the two. This is all accompanied by a soundtrack that provides a bit of relief, but sadly it can't pull the game out from the shambles.

Ethan: Meteor Hunter was released almost 3 years ago and back then it was hailed by some to be innovative, creative, and beautiful. Take this, along with the developer's claims about one's gameplay experience, and this game has a lot to live up to, but sadly it doesn't. I was hoping for a Braid quality experience and I didn't get that. I was hoping for a Super Meat Boy experience, and I didn't get that either. That being said, I was looking for puzzles and I did get those and the all the freedom to solve them that I wanted, unfortunately that can't save this game. I was hopeful that Ethan: Meteor Hunter would deliver an experience that would have me captivated and challenged, but instead I got disappointment and regret.

Overall Score: 4.0 / 10 Full Mojo Rampage

Lately we have become inundated with a plethora of seemingly lack luster budget games. Enter Full Mojo Rampage from Over the Top Games, a twin stick style shooter for $12.99. Full Mojo Rampage is priced in the upper middle tier for indie games. So, you might already be thinking that it's pushing the expensive side of indie gaming and that there are only a few twin stick experiences of any quality that are worth playing. Well, after playing Full Mojo Rampage I can honestly say to get ready to add another one to that list.

Over the Top Games has done something brilliant as they have taken a formula that was undoubtedly successful in the past, adapted it, and put some of their own influence in for a kick. Full Mojo Rampage is what you could consider a baby Diablo clone in almost every sense of the imagination. Think of it, if Tim Burton, Disney, and Diablo all had a wild evening together, the resulting product of that trio of fun would be Full Mojo Rampage. The game involves your character, a voodoo keeper in training, who must learn from various voodoo masters, and this requires many different challenges and boss fights; however, the plot is told with a dark and humorous twist that is very Tim Burton-esque, and you can easily see where some of his work has drawn influence here. It's not too shabby to draw from that type of material when constructing a game about voodoo and different powers.

When you start your game you have the option for single player, multiplayer, and other various options such as library, help, options, and more. When starting the campaign you can tackle it as a single player or with a friend or two, and multiplayer gives you the option to go at it co-op style or in a PvP match for more intense action! For this review let's start with single player campaign.

You'll get the option to select only the first world when starting, but as you complete the various worlds you'll get more. After this you get the option to configure your voodoo warrior. You can opt to change your mask though this is only a cosmetic thing. You also carry pins, that you can upgrade, that you find in the various levels you play. These pins give your character certain bonuses. The next section you have to pick from is from a stack of voodoo master cards that give your character certain abilities. As you level up you'll be able to purchase different blessings as well that are dramatic one time bonuses that come at the expense of both coins and medals.

After you have your voodoo warrior customized and ready to go you'll notice that the world is divided up into multiple stages. While some sit off the beaten path and provide sanctuary, such as shrines and stores, there are also optional side quests, which if you complete them, will grant you access to a special chest that contains rewards for your character from coins to mojos and more. Each stage requires you to fulfill various requirements before exiting, but as you'll quickly discover, the levels and presentation are a more lighthearted and comical style of Diablo.

The top down view works wonders for the twin stick shooting, and armed with a mini map you can locate everything from various doors, chests, and exits. Over the Top Games did a brilliant job here; however, their map leaves a lot to be desired. I'm playing on a 55" 4k Samsung and wow is the map ever tiny. There is an ability to expand it, but it doesn't seem to be an enormous benefit.

Earlier you heard me talk about mojos. These are bonus items that you can find throughout the levels that grant you bonuses such as attack power increases, health bonuses, increased critical hit chance, and so much more. These equip automatically to your character as you pick them up, but they can be switched with ones not equipped or those found on the ground. There are even unique mojos that offer you tremendous bonuses such as unlock the entire shaded map or reflect all damage back at your opponent. These are rare to find and are a treasure to hold onto. As you venture throughout each world you'll uncover rooms that allow you to combine your mojos. For instance, if you had one mojo that had health +50 and another that had a damage bonus of +5, you could then combine them to make one mojo that had both stats. This does wonders when you realize that you now have one spot in your inventory open for a new mojo.

One of the hidden gems of Full Mojo Rampage has to be the music. To coincide with the child like graphics and humor, the soundtrack and sound effects fit like the skull head on a voodoo master's staff. With a dark and almost groovy funk they serenade you as you play with interesting sound effects. Full Mojo Rampage does a great job delivering all of this in a package that makes it very hard to find faults. One thing however, is that this game is packed with Easter eggs from various sources such as Game of Thrones, Mario, Skyrim, The Jungle Book, and I'm sure many more that I haven't uncovered yet. Even though I just said it's hard to find faults in the game, outside of the map there are still a few big faults, and one of them is the whole campaign structure.

You have one life to get as far as you can through the game world. If you die on the level right before the boss, congratulations, because now you'll have to do all those worlds all over again. As you restart you'll be placed at the beginning with none of your mojos or bonuses, but if you've acquired enough XP to level up then you'll want to quit back to the main menu to level up your character. Sure, the pins you unlock and the stats you upgrade will help, but wow does this game like to kick you right in the groin. If you're playing multiplayer co-op, you and your partner will share lives, so make sure none of you die. The game mercifully gives you multiple lives to work with in co-op play, but only two. There have been many times where I lost focus and got killed on a boss only to have to start all the way back at the beginning of the world.

Despite the 'one-life' major fault, and a map system that could use some improvement, Full Mojo Rampage is a dark, humorous, gem from the voodoo gods. Priced at 13 bucks it is an absolutely brilliant game that will undoubtedly drain numerous hours, and even days, away. I usually find myself treating these indie games with the same scrutiny as top shelf titles because I feel that sometimes a game is grossly overpriced for the execution and content that it brings gamers, and with that in mind, Full Mojo Rampage is a bargain every day of the week.

Suggestions: Please improve the mini map, and if need be, directly rip the entire map mechanics from Diablo!

Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 The Technomancer

Have you ever seen a blatant rip off that you actually enjoyed quite a bit? Now, I know that's harsh to start off with, but recently I sat down to give Technomancer a good solid run through, and even though I find it to almost be a lesser quality clone, I find it to be a clone of some fantastic Bioware RPG games from the golden years so many moons ago. Developer Spiders has actually been smarter than many other companies, and throughout this review you'll see where their brilliance takes form. I think when you take a deep look at Technomancer, what you find may just shock you (get it?).

As I began playing, my character, Zachariah Mancer, is about to be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Officer in the Technomancer Order on the planet Mars, 200 years after it was colonized. Technomancers are humans with a mutated gene that allows them to harness and control electricity. They have become both feared and revered throughout Mars. You're tasked to create a team, which you will build throughout the story, and your actions with the environment, along with the corporations, will determine how they view you.

There are also various corporations and organizations that are positioning themselves for control, and control comes down to water and serum. Water became a vital source of survival, corruption, and power, and throughout the story you must weigh the choices that affect your karma (how your followers and other NPC's regard you), your relationships (save someone's life and they may fall in love with you, but put a bullet in their head and that pretty much seals the deal), and even your associations with various factions (they can be hostile, suspicious, or neutral). Serum is the game's currency, which you can gain from fallen enemies, and if you decide to kill them you will get a serum bonus.

Things sound very typical and you'd be right thinking they are. However, this narrative is nothing short of a divine inspiration drawn straight from classic Bioware RPG games of the past, and that is a stroke of brilliance. With such a successful model already at your disposal you can imagine the guys at Spiders saying, "Hmmmmm... well what if we took the same type of model found in these other legendary games and applied it to ours?" That means what we have is a very deep system of character development combined with a moral dilemma tree system of choices. All of this means that the premise behind this game is sensational. Let me repeat that, the premise behind this game is sensational; however, the execution of the actual game itself is not.

Since we are on the topic of the story, it goes without saying that the voice over acting is laughable at best. Not only is it overacted about 90% of the time, but the other 10% is so comical that you almost feel it was a deliberate attempt to force dialogue into the game. All of this is quite disappointing because the music itself, and the sound effects, feel almost like they came straight from the Mass Effect universe. So, how one could have such terrible voice acting, yet put together a quality score and sound effects is puzzling to me. This isn't just a sliver of negative, but a massive black eye given that the voice acting permeates throughout the entire game. It really puts the hurt on Technomancer in a big way, and that's depressing because the execution could have really helped propel this game into a whole new category, but sadly it's not.

The gameplay mechanics in a 3rd person game have to be responsive in order to be enjoyable, these sadly are not. Now, when you’re playing, your character has multiple game menus to select from. For instance, Left Bumper will bring up your Technomancer quick access wheel at the top left corner of the screen where you can assign various powers and techniques that you can access on the fly. The Left Trigger will allow you to select various assignable buttons that pertain to items such as health potions, or traps, etc. Your Right Bumper will allow your character to select from three different fighting styles:

1. Warrior - The staff is your weapon of choice, with devastating single attacks and a wide but slow area of attack moves, the warrior can cause serious damage to a lot of enemies at once.

2. Rogue - This fighting style hooks your character into using a dagger and a gun. Get in quick and stab, slash, and pierce your enemies, then roll back to a safe distance. Utilizing traps become key for gaining strategic advantages in fights.

3. Guardian - The fighting style of the shield and mace. Using a shield, you can block incoming blows including gunfire, but anything that dares stand in your way will become another body statistic left in your wake.

The rest is very familiar as your Right Stick takes control of a sketchy camera that seems to be more of a hassle than helpful, and the Left Stick will move your character around as per normal. All of this is incredibly similar to games you have played before so that's great right? Sort of.

The responsiveness of the controls is next to nonexistent. There were numerous times where I would be fighting in Guardian style and blocking away when I wanted to dash backward to create some distance so I could lay a trap down. I pushed down on the LS to move my character back, along with the B button to do my dash, and my character actually turned to face the direction I was pressing on the LS. When I hit the B button to dash, my character zoomed right back into the fight, exposing my back at which point would get decimated by countless blades and gunfire which led to a rapid demise. You feel that the dev-team essentially thought to compensate for this sluggishness and erratic behavior by giving you a twitchy camera system to operate, and when your character finally decides to walk, the game almost naturally sends him into a sprint, which makes the A button sprint almost worthless.

Sadly, there is another gripe I have to raise about Technomancer, and that is with the map system. When you have quests selected you don't see any sort of notification or indicator on your HUD and you must push the RT so your map will enlarge to give you a wider view of your immediate surroundings. This is great until you find yourself constantly backtracking to reach objectives and running around with the map seemingly glued to the screen. It really detracts from the game, and unless you want to continue into the menu system to examine the full map, then that's all the support you're going to get. While that's a bad thing, what you need to realize is that the only reason it's bad is because there are so many things to do in Technomancer. Tons of side quests and main missions mean that you can level your character up rapidly. It took me only two days of casual playing to get my character to level 18.

All of this is wrapped up in a graphics presentation that feels very last generation. The character models are nice, but the environment itself is lackluster, and the various NPC characters, that seem to have zero point in the game, almost feel thrown together in a hasty way. But you're not really paying attention to that since you're looking at your full screen map trying to get to where you have to be anyways, so it's not that big of a deal. If you're thinking Technomancer is going to be some graphic powerhouse of pure brilliance, think again.

Technomancer is a game that I feel is undercooked. What I mean by this is that there are games that get delayed because they want to add more polish to the title itself, and Technomancer is a game that could have benefited from that. Had the developers at Spiders taken just a few more months to fine tune the gameplay, I have no doubt in my mind that Technomancer would be a breakthrough game for the company that could have launched them into a whole new level.

Technomancer has so much going for it in terms of story, sound, moral choices, and everything we’ve come to expect from a quality 3rd person RPG game from the big players in the gaming industry, so much so that it really feels like you’re experiencing a cheap knock off of a really great game. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means that it could have been a whole lot better. Imagine what the quality of Technomancer would be like had the dev-team taken the time to do all of this? Wow. I honestly started off with a lackluster impression of the game, but after some long days of playing it I can say that it has grown on me, and even though it's not perfect it sure is fun, and that is what a game is supposed to be in the end right?

Overall Score: 7.3 / 10 Bard's Gold

Remember the days when 2D platforming games offered you a tremendous challenge and a ludicrous reward after completion? Welcome back. Bard's Gold is the latest release from the ID@Xbox program by the people at Pixel Lantern, and their goal was to create a challenging platforming title with "light" RPG elements. With a price tag at $4.99, could this be the reason we have the phrase: "Good things come in small packages?" Let's set off on our adventure shall we?

I have to say that when going into this game I have a very small amount of knowledge about it, and after having played it for quite some time... I still know very little. Apparently the overall premise of Bard's Gold is that there is this nefarious Goblin that has stolen, well... all your gold, and now you must venture out to various worlds to hunt him down and reclaim your riches! Thankfully though the story doesn't really matter, but at least it's there in all is pixelated glory. But playing a platformer to focus on the story is like reading the back of a cereal box and thinking you can now unlock the secrets of the universe, it's not really gonna happen.

However, what you really play a platformer for is the gameplay experience. Responsive controls, challenging levels, and enemies that have their own identities are all qualities that we look for in a quality platformer, and how many boxes does Bard's Gold check? A lot of them. The gameplay mechanics are so simplistic that you start to wonder if Bard's Gold seems dumbed down for the gaming public, but then you enter your first of several worlds with your goal in this one being you must obtain the key on the level to open a door to continue in the time limit provided. If for some reason your timer hits 0:00, get ready, because fire will start raining from above, and will continue to do so until you either perish (where you will respawn and the time will reset to just over 50 seconds) or you manage to get to the door to the next level and exit.

To do all of this you use your A button to jump, X button to attack, and your Left Stick to move, all while you traverse the level and defeat the enemies that lie in your way. It really doesn't get much simpler than that folks, but that’s ok because you don't need to have an overly confusing control scheme to have a good time. Sometimes keeping it simple is truly the best thing to do. These levels though are challenging and can be quite tough at times, but it's nothing that we haven't experienced as gamers before. Just avoid the traps, kill the enemies, destroy boss characters, and you'll be just fine. As you progress through these levels you will acquire gems and gold that you can use to do business. Who's your shopkeeper? Why Death of course.

Yes, the Grim Reaper apparently has decided to go into merchandising and has setup a monopoly of stores that sell your character items such as an extra life, more powerful weapons, increased time on your timer, and even the ability to see hidden loot items. So basically Death is the 1% of Bard's Gold, but that's not all that happens with death. When your character dies repeatedly, and expends all of your lives, you will come to a character upgrade screen where any unspent treasure must be spent on upgrading traits for your character, or it will be lost forever. This actually creates a balancing act within Bard's Gold because now you have to choose such things as spending your money on things that the Reaper has that will help you complete levels or do you wait and save it till you die so you can pour all of it into upgrading your character overall?

These upgrades greatly influence your character's traits and gameplay, and unlocking these require you to find certain skill books. These can be acquired in many ways through boss fights, but I do remember for one of them I had to traverse a long series of pinpoint timed jumps throughout a tower which seemed to go on for ages, but I finally reached the top, and with it, my prize. Do make a note that because while your level progress saves, your gold does not. Also, it must be said that Bard's Gold switches up the level layout every time you start over, so whenever you run out of lives and go to play again, you'll have different level layouts. Which will happen a lot.

And all of this platforming excitement comes wrapped in a pixelated blanket of nostalgia. Everything from the details in the background outside the windows, to jars, and even the light itself is done in true retro glory, but unfortunately I cannot really say the same for the soundtrack. Sadly that's not the only flaw with Bard's Gold. You heard me ramble on about the gameplay; however, what I didn't mention yet is that Bard's Gold will literally destroy your controllers. Sure, you get a chance to select Normal, Challenging, and 'smash your TV in a fit of blind rage' difficulties, but none of that actually matters. While the game seems simplistic, the flip side of the coin is that it doesn't take much to make you start swearing, snapping controllers, and so much more because of the challenge. You could say though that completion also gives you some of the greatest feelings of accomplishment, and you'd be right, but at the expense of your wallet and a bunch of controller parts.

When it was all said and done, this pixel drenched platformer really surprised me. For $4.99 you get an incredible challenge. Think about it, a game cheaper than a fast food value meal that provides you an experience that is fresh, challenging, and very rewarding. Sure it has a fortune cookie for a story, there is no training to get you up to speed on the gameplay mechanics, and some of the later levels are downright rage inducing, but given its price you can't really beat its simplicity and content for the asking price. Nostalgic, retro, ancient, or whatever you want to call it, Bard's Gold delivers on a lot of key points. It may not be perfect, but it definitely is fun.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 PAC-MAN 256

Since the birth of video games decades ago, and probably well before most of you reading this were even born, video games were simple. We didn't have to worry about checkpoints, K/D ratios, story, graphics, and so on. All we had to be concerned with was having fun. Back then, over a partially eaten pizza, lightning struck the gaming world and Pac-Man was born. Over the decades, Pac-Man has seen everything from merchandising to various takes on his iconic layout, sound, and graphics. Most recently, and in my possession, I welcome you to what literally could be called one of the best iterations of Pac-Man to ever happen; Pac-Man 256. For $4.99 it's already priced to sell, but should you toss down the cash? Wakka Wakka everyone.

Pac-Man 256 is literally a revolutionary way to play and experience Pac-Man. There isn't a story because Pac-Man has always been about scoring higher than your opponent, not about saving a princess from a castle, or saving the universe from destruction. It was simple back then, and developers Hipster Whale have thankfully kept it simple now. From the beginning you will have the choice of either single player or local multiplayer action. I wish there was support for Xbox Live multiplayer, but hopefully they do a direct sequel to this with it included; however, the joy that's found isn't the fact that there's no story, it's all about the gameplay.

Each time you set off in Pac-Man 256 you experience a new and ever changing maze of twists, turns, and straights that are set in a semi-top down skewed viewpoint. The key to the game is survival, which is even harder to do now when you have a game over screen that not only digitizes the board as it creeps along towards you, but also disorients the screen and audio through static and other nostalgic treats of sound. The closer the looming kill screen that chases you, the more distortion you will pick up, and if you dawdle too long then your Pac-Man will perish. This forces you forward through the maze and you have to adapt on the fly. This ever changing experience is what keeps Pac-Man 256 always entertaining and a massive value for only $4.99.

Normally a dramatic shift would be the only change; however, developers Hipster Whale have pushed the boundaries even further. Now Pac-Man has power-ups! Yes, Pac-Man can now carry up to three primary power-ups to help along the way. These range from laser beams that are straight line death rays that take out ghosts to tornadoes that start sending Pinky, Blinky, Clyde and crew back to Oz. Pac-Man even has an ability called 'Pac-Men" which sends out smaller clones of himself to attack ghosts, Stealth, and so much more. These are primarily unlocked through the over-consumption of pellets, and some of them take a very, very long time to unlock. Like I mentioned earlier, you can select up to three primary power-ups and throughout the level you may find a few different ones that will allow you to try them out before you even unlock them.

These powerups are a great tool to have and unlock, but the real joy is when you get to upgrade them. During your adventures you will come across different colored coins (yellow and a brownish red color). It's these coins that you will be able to spend on upgrading your power-ups. The first few upgrades aren't much in terms of cost, but when you start going for the max levels you'll be looking at dropping at least a few thousand, and when you only collect between 2 and 5 coins at a time, guess what you'll be playing for a very long time?

To help speed things up, if you complete challenges set before you, you can also earn different amounts of coins that range from 256 all the way to over 1,000. I've found that it's more based on performance, so if you have a really terrible run, then you're at the bottom of the scale when it comes to rewards, but go on a 10 min rampage through the game and your rewards will be tremendous.

All of these innovations are amazing to include in a Pac-Man game, but in Pac-Man 256 the innovation continues into the graphics realm. On the bottom left side of the main menu you will notice a Pac-Man symbol. Select it and you will be able to choose from a variety of different level layouts including office, cube, vintage 80's, and many more. These help keep the gameplay fresh as well, because let me tell you that there's nothing more enjoyable than when you have a red office chair wheeling itself after you. Even when your character dies, it explodes into a ton of pixel cubes instead of just folding back onto itself. On top of all of this, the opening intro jingle even got remixed into a downtempo hip hop beat that provided some funk and fun, mixed in with the classic "wakka wakka" sound and corresponding sound effects.

It really goes without saying that Pac-Man 256 is nothing short of an innovative homage to a classic masterpiece that is simply enjoyable gaming. With more innovation in this $4.99 release than we have ever seen, Hipster Whale has seemingly reinvented the wheel and we couldn't be happier about it. There are full retail games, including other ID@Xbox games that try to give you more, but fail at delivering such a quality gaming experience at a cost three times as much. Not here though, as Pac-Man 256 is another gem priced below the cost of a value meal at McDonalds that could quite possibly be the best value per dollar in gaming today, and I'm loving it.

Suggestions: Please add Xbox Live multiplayer support!

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Fenix Furia

When you're going to develop a game, what sort of qualities and characteristics do you want to be in it. Do you want it to be enjoyable? What about challenging? What about so freaking hard you swear to the unholiest of demons for some form of wrathful vengeance? If you answered yes, then Fenix Furia from Green Lava Studios should be right up your alley. Priced at $14.99, Fenix Furia originally was released back in 2014 on the PC as Fenix Rage, but now makes its debut on the Xbox One. Is it worth it? Let's find out.

Set in a 2D platform world, Fenix Furia is designed to test your patience. Your reward for this? A virtual cookie. Oh, but there's so much more. I have to get this out of the way right from the beginning: Fenix Furia is tough, I mean like putting the durability of your controller to the test type of tough. Did you know they package extra sticks with the Xbox Elite Controller? Fenix Furia could easily be the reason for this. Why is this game so tough? Well, the developers were aiming for something between Flappy Bird and Super Meat Boy and ended up producing something that some would deem to be impossible. If you have never played a 2D platforming game before and you're considering this game, God be with you.

The story of Fenix Furia is so small it could fit on the side of a milk carton under the word "MISSING". You play the role of Fenix, not Marcus Fenix mind you, and your home world has been obliterated by an explosion leaving you and Oktarus. This other survivor manages to stay just one or two steps ahead of you. So, you travel through four different worlds, each one being 20 stages long, looking for each level's cookie. Yes, a cookie. What I just told you could be deemed a spoiler since the story is not only mysterious, but it requires you to complete the game to find out.

Your chance at finding out just who Oktarus is, and the story behind Fenix Furia, rest squarely on your desire for constant and repetitive punishment and death. The reason for this shady story is that the developers want you to focus on the gameplay, and trust me, you'll be glad they did. This is because Fenix Furia's primary focus is to make you pay an exorbitant amount of attention to make sure you get the timing of every single jump you make, right down to the micro-second. If you thought Super Meat Boy was hard you haven't played this game.

Fenix Furia's jump and dash mechanic is the fundamental cornerstone of the gameplay. It is also one of the biggest deceptions in video games. Sure, the controls sound like they are very simplistic, especially when you consider that the A button jumps, Right Trigger performs a dash, and you move with the Left Stick. It's clear that we're not talking rocket science controls here, but it's these three simple controls that you must master to thread the needle to ensure victory. Imagine you're on the moon, and you have to throw a pine needle through the eye of a sewing needle back on earth, and if you screw up you die. This type of gameplay has been improved and there is even an option to help calibrate your controller, and given the responsiveness and pinpoint precision you will praise the developers for this option, because without it there would literally be no hope.

The cartoonish style of Fenix Furia adds a lot of character to the game. Varying levels with different styles of enemies will always be present to keep you on your toes, and the whole retro synth music that blasts through your speakers will give your ears a sense of nostalgia as you quickly notice your heartbeat racing along with the tempo as you make sure every jump you make is precise. One of the interesting twists that I enjoyed was the inclusion of various powers such as ice, fire, and more. These grant you temporary powers to overcome certain obstacles and they add a nice strenuous touch which makes you feel that the developers just wanted to mess with you a little more than they already were doing.

One big drawback would have to be the dramatic and sudden spike in the difficulty. Now, I know what you're saying, but normally if you have 20 stages in a level, you would expect stages 18-20 to be the hardest right? From the beginning, Fenix Furia will put you in some incredibly simplistic levels to make sure that you get used to the feel and tempo of the game itself, but then BAM, off come the floaties and its swim or sink. As I'm typing this my character is stuck in a level that every time I try to complete it my right index finger goes numb from pressing the button constantly and I end up beating my controller like it owes me money. I played the game on easy difficulty and there are still 4 other difficulties to choose from (2 are even locked out probably because I haven't sacrificed enough of my stress and anxiety into this game...that's one theory).

If you're a hardcore fan of 2D platforming that feels impossible to beat then step right up to Fenix Furia and see what lasts longer, your controller or your patience. I have to hand it to Green Lava Studios as they have created one of the most difficult games I have ever played in my 30+ years of gaming. With colorful graphics and simplistic, yet deceptively difficult gameplay, Fenix Furia will be a champion to those who have the dedication and drive to be the best, while others may want to seriously reconsider their thoughts of buying this game in order to keep their sanity. To underestimate Fenix Furia's difficulty will be your greatest downfall as it will also lead to many bouts of swearing, smashing, as well as shattered dreams and broken controllers.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Mirror's Edge Catalyst

In today's gaming world, trying to introduce an original IP to the market is quite possibly the most terrifying thing a gaming company will ever go through. Recently I had the chance to review the newest release from EA, Mirror's Edge Catalyst. While the first Mirror's Edge originally came out to mixed reviews, it quickly developed a huge following despite the game's faults. Mirror's Edge Catalyst is, at its core, a reboot of the franchise, so the differences are altered with the present day being a clear opportunity to fix the past faults of the original hopefully allowing DICE to deliver a better quality product. So does this release fall into the "been there and done that" crowd, or does it keep the Faith? Let's see.

As I just mentioned, Mirror's Edge Catalyst is a reboot. The plot begins with Faith's playable history starting from the day she leaves juvenile detention. There is even a comic that you can read, called Mirror's Edge Exordium, that delves into her past and you will learn and why Faith got locked up to begin with. Upon release you realize that the source of this Orwellian torment that the game takes place in stems from The Conglomerate. Think of this as a large shadowy organization that is trying to control society, and in this game society lives in a city called Glass. The person at the top of this evil empire is Gabriel Kruger, and welcome to your main villain. The reboot isn't just about the plot though, it's about everything else which also includes how you experience the story.

In the original Mirror's Edge the game had what can be best described as a comic book style in its delivery. In this reboot that is gone. Instead, you now get full motion video sequences which are a tremendous improvement. While this change in the story delivery and execution is a good thing, the fact that the game itself doesn't look that improved upon in this current-gen version is a bad thing. Sure the cutscenes look amazing; however, everything else almost looks like a port from last generation technology. The scattered NPC characters throughout the environment look very outdated and can almost pass for early Xbox 360 quality. I don't know why this is, but the fact that it's so apparent is quite a drawback. Thankfully though there is still good audio quality in Mirror's Edge Catalyst. Ranging from very a futuristic and minimalist nature to edgy and intense synths and guitar riffs, the music does a fantastic job conforming to the environment and your character's action.

Controlling Faith in the original Mirror's Edge was quite touchy and was met with mixed reaction from the gaming world. This division was paramount to the game's future considering that is what the heart and soul of Mirror's Edge is. Controlling your character as you traverse the environment is the true balancing act of Mirror's Edge Catalyst.

If the controls are too touchy then the game suffers because it's not enjoyable, but if they are too forgiving then the reality goes right out the proverbial window. Mirror's Edge Catalyst offers what I'm calling a modified mechanic system. I don't consider the controls so dumbed down that you can play this game with your feet, but at the same time it's not hyped up on a mountain of caffeine and so twitchy that you can't even open a door.

When controlling Faith I lept from the roof of a tall building and then I hit the ground rolling to maintain momentum. The problem here was that the roll covered too much ground and I ended up rolling right off the top of the building I just landed on and fell to my death. I think that Mirror's Edge Catalyst is trying to find that harmonious center ground, and while I don't see it as perfect, they are well on the right path towards it.

Your controls and gear operate much as we are familiar with, except now you can earn upgrades by leveling up with enough XP to unlock new moves (which you will need if you want to get all the achievements). Having all these options can make parkour running all over the city of Glass an incredibly enjoyable experience, and when coupled with the new MAG launcher (think zip line), Mirror's Edge Catalyst can become pure entertainment.

You can truly see where DICE made compromises along the way in development though. They dropped the resolution to 720p on the Xbox One verson, but in doing so they gained the constant fluid speed of the framerate. Personally I think that DICE is lazy here given that developers can get 900p to 1080p with no problems. Makes me wonder why they haven't gotten up to speed in the programming area and upping the resolution.

Ok, so I digress....ahem....the dev-team at DICE has worked on adapting the controls while allowing you to upgrade abilities and unlock more movements to help keep the balance between fun and some form of realism. There are some issues with combat though. Fighting enemies with your hands and feet can feel somewhat clunky and not as smooth as you would expect from a game that prides itself on its fluidity. It almost makes you feel detached for a few moments, and the hit detection is laughable at times. Taking down an opponent from the air though while free running right through him is especially gratifying, but these moments are very few and far between.

As the moments in the game passed, I realized that this is one of the more dynamic reboots we have seen in awhile. Sure, there are faults with the game, but if you're a fan of the original, then it goes without saying that there's a very strong chance that your rose tinted glasses won't let you down. Instead of just porting over the original with a few pieces of polish, DICE made sure to try to address every single aspect in Mirror's Edge Catalyst, from the plot changes to the upgrade system, and the heavy amount of attention given to balancing the fairly fluid gameplay with realistic and enjoyable controls. At the end of the day they have done a great job in delivering a fairly good sequel that fans should enjoy.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Dangerous Golf

When you're young you are told by your parents not to do certain things indoors. That includes not to break things and that outdoor sports should stay in the great outdoors. Now Three Fields Entertainment cracks open a beer, disregards all of that, and brings us Dangerous Golf, a game where you get to combine miniature golf but on a Burnout style destructive environment, and all of it indoors. Gone are the days where you had to putt your ball through a windmill or around a banking corner with a water hazard. Nope, instead your golfing experience is packed with explosions, destructible objects, more explosions, money, and more explosions. The price for this party is $20, but is it worth it? Let's light the candle on this and get the party started!

You heard me just then mention the game Burnout, and that's because I have to point out that some of the Burnout developers apparently have decided that they would be perfect to inject their punk rock style of destruction and mayhem into the world of Putt-Putt. As we go through this you'll start to see why this is strangely entertaining, but also at the same time, highly offensive. The premise of Golf is simple right? Get your ball in the hole in the fewest strokes possible. With Dangerous Golf though, things are a bit different, and I must say far more destructive then any golf game I have seen, or even played.

Dangerous Golf offers many modes of both online multiplayer and offline single player, but the meat of this game resides in the solo championships. This consists of playing multiple tournaments made up of varying holes in four different countries including the United States, Australia, England, and France. So instead of playing 18 holes of Australia and then being done with it completely, you may play hole 1 in Australia but hole 2 in the United States, hole 3 in France, and so on. This helps keep things fresh as a summer's breeze.

You're not offered any sort of guidance though because I'm guessing that the people at Three Fields Entertainment assume you know how to push the Left Stick forward to fire your shot, and the Right Stick to move the camera around. There are some guidelines in terms of the bonuses and shots you unlock, but nothing that is going to be taught to you, so like golf you will have a lot of trial and error. And when I say that I mean A LOT of trial, but a heck of A LOT more error.

One aspect of Dangerous Golf that you can see has been influenced by Burnout is the introduction of the Smashbreaker. You may recall Burnout offered a gameplay mechanic titled Crashbreaker, so already you can see where the similarities start, but they continue from there. After your initial putt, if your hole offers you a chance to have a Smashbreaker you press the B button and a direction on the Left Stick and it instantly becomes engulfed in an explosive flame allowing you to control its trajectory, destroying as much as you can in the allotted time before you putt to the hole.

You get only one putt so make sure that where ever you decide to finish up at the end of your Smashbreaker, that you're in a good enough position to at least make a shot towards the pin. The putting is quite forgiving so don't think the razor's edge of other Golf games. At times I've even managed to bank shots off of 6 different surfaces before finally settling in at the bottom of the hole.

Causing all this destruction can, at times, unlock money flags. These special flags can grant you cash bonuses that range from $10,000 (Silver Flags) to $50,000 (Platinum Flags). All of your rampaging gains you money, and when combined with bonuses from the money flags, and even your putt into the hole itself you'll earn some mullah. You can earn you massive bonuses such as $15,000 for a blind putt or a 6x ricochet shot for an additional $60,000. All this money does add up and you'll need it because if you want to achieve gold medal status or more you'll need to learn how to make the big bucks on a course. This is done through holding down the X button at the beginning to highlight scoring hints on how to obtain Smash Down bonuses of $50,000 or a Double Smash Down bonus of $100,000. Earn the cash on the course and the medal is yours. Can't get much simpler than that.

While the graphics are quite impressive for the environments, the real zest comes from the destruction of each individual level. Smashing through bathroom stalls and urinals, to collapsing an auto mechanic workshop, and even laying waste to an exquisite collection of priceless vases, grand pianos and suits of armor all bring about a guilty smile because you can see how simplistic this game truly is. That's not to say though that the graphics don't suffer at all. When you're talking a destructive environment, at any given time it's not uncommon to have over 20 pieces of the environment being manipulated simultaneously, then you will encounter a severe drop in the frame rate, but that is only because a small game like this has a hard time maintaining the physics of every piece of the level while in motion.

Dangerous Golf has one major fault, and that is the loading times in-between holes. Let's say you want to play a hole; well thanks to the graphic load on the game itself it takes at least 15 seconds to load, which may seem like a small amount of time but if you sit there and count to 15 you will realize that it's much longer than you originally thought. It's ok, go ahead and try it, I'll wait. So, now you know what you will experience every time you hit retry, or every time you move onto the next hole. Every 4 holes of Golf you play, you effectively spend at least 1 minute of your gameplay time waiting. Anyway you look at it, that's atrocious.

The faults keep coming too because thanks to the way Dangerous Golf's co-op works. The first player tees off and destroy items, which include key scoring targets, and when the second player steps up, the game puts all the key scoring targets back, but that's all. All the carnage would still be laid out, but for some reason this naturally hampers and hinders anyone playing second.

I originally stated that Dangerous Golf was priced at $20. Thanks to some of the game's missteps there is really no way I can tell you that this price is justified. Don't get me wrong, the simplistic core gameplay mechanic of destruction can provide hours of enjoyment, but there are also hours of waiting, and it is the latter point that takes away from the overall enjoyment of it. If the game is on sale in the near future, you could consider it, but until then you should just scroll on by this title when looking through the Xbox One digital store for a new game to play.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Elite Dangerous

Since I can remember, games have tried to "one up" each other by delivering larger and larger game environments. We as gamers have stood in wonderment, and awe, over the size and scale of some of our favorite playgrounds, but nothing we've ever experienced before could prepare us for Elite Dangerous, a game from Frontier Developments. Elite Dangerous provides not only the largest gaming environment found on the Xbox platform, but also one of the most in-depth gaming experiences found on the Xbox platform as a whole. Fire up your engines and get ready to explore the Milky Way Galaxy because we are in for quite a ride.

When you start to play Elite Dangerous, you'll notice that there are other "add on" modules that you can purchase for a fraction of the cost. These additional modes unlock more ways to play, so think of these as DLC that help the evolution of the game. Another thing you will notice when you start is right at the top there's an option for training. This is where you will need to go first because the learning curve is one of the most advanced that you'll find on the Xbox platform, and could quite easily be the most advanced gameplay mechanic system you've ever played on a console.

Training is divided into two categories: Missions and Videos. Missions will take you through a training operation where the completion of the training goal will result in a pass or fail. The videos open up a Microsoft Edge browser which in-turn opens up an Elite Dangerous YouTube account where you will be able to watch corresponding videos relating to your training mission. I cannot stress enough how critically important training is. Let me explain why.

When you're playing a normal flying game there are usually about 4 axis to be concerned with, in Elite Dangerous there are 6, so your movement is far more complex than in any other flight simulation you may have experienced in the past. On top of that, the control scheme offers up what I'm calling a secondary control option. Click the LS and your entire flight mechanics of RS change; however, click RS and only your view changes from straight ahead to free view cockpit mode where you can look around at the vastness of space that surrounds you. Other buttons, such as X and B, offer up a secondary option that allows you to select various internal menus within your ship. Each of these internal menus allow for further exploration of your options and gameplay. Does it sound confusing? Well, if it does it's because it is.

When I finished my training missions and videos I ventured off into space and thought "Meh, how large can this be right?". So I held the X button down to bring up the secondary selection menu and from there I pressed left on the D-Pad opening up a control panel within my cockpit. Next I waded through the many sub menus, such as navigation and more, and selected the navigation tab and then choose a base so I could start receiving quests and earning money (a celestial empire isn't born in a day right?). I engaged my super cruise with the press of the Y button and aligned up with the base and boom I'm streaking through space towards my target. PHEW!!!! As a sidebar, when you're in super cruise you'll notice how you are unable to lower your landing gear or bring out your weaponry, and I wondered "Why"? With no friction from air in space, you're not going to risk any drag or create force powerful enough to rip anything off, but ok, I'll accept it.

You'll also notice that your flight mechanics have changed yet again into something far more simplistic, and if I'm honest, far more familiar. So here we are, still hurdling towards our destination, but now we must start making preparations for landing. So first thing we have to check is that our angle of approach and our speed, making sure we have both under control, as this will enable one's ship to shift into orbital flight mode and glide in towards your destination. If you miss, or screw up, your ship will disengage from super cruise mode early which leaves you with a tremendous amount of ground to cover (especially if you come in on the wrong side of the planet and have to orbit near the planet). If this does happen, just engage your super cruise again, but line your ship up with the escape vector and try again. When you have the base lined up you need to make sure you are approaching properly. At 7 km or less you can request to dock at the base. If you dock without requesting permission, there is a fine, that if not paid, can escalate into penalties which can include ship destruction. Just a note, DO NOT have your weapons out when approaching, otherwise you will see a plethora of artillery rise up that will blast you out of the stars.

To get permission to dock you hold the X button and move to the contacts tab. Here you will see any and all contacts around you, including the base. Press the A button on the base and a sub menu pops up with "Permission to Dock" and wait for the approval. Once this occurs you fly your ship to the assigned docking port. Sure, this sounds easy but when I took all these steps, 10 minutes later my docking permission expired, and since I couldn't quickly select the menu to request again, I got fined for loitering. Great! So on my second attempt I tried to balance out my throttle as well as my left stick flight controls. I found that it was much easier to keep my craft level, then click my LS to allow my Right Stick to shift my vessel left or right along a plane, where by then using the Right Stick to press up and down to control direct elevation to my target. I only then worried about using throttle to move forward or back along this plane and that is when the mechanics of docking finally clicked and the learning curve was overcome.

So, now I'm in this base and I call up the services that are offered. Outside of refuel and repairing the vehicle I can take a look at the base's economy in terms of materials sold and needed, and check if there are any missions that I can complete that will allow me to earn money. While I'm here I decide to hold the X button down and press left again to call up the menu where I selected Galaxy Map. It took a few moments to bring up, and when it did I looked and thought "Meh, it's large but I wonder what happens when I hold down Left Trigger and zoom out"? Oh... And that's how humble pie tastes. What unfolded was a perfectly proportioned map of the Milky Way Galaxy with system after unidentified system full of planets, stars, population, and so much more. Having now picked my jaw up off the floor I selected a couple of jobs available that had me venture to nearby systems and proceed to the corresponding bases for mission completion.

I had to make sure that I completed the missions, because I did get fined for not aborting a mission and letting the gameplay time run out. So, even though you may have selected a mission and went away, the game itself is still playing, so your mission completion time continuously counts down. Not completing a mission can make you unfavorable in the eyes of the faction for that mission, which can eventually become hostile if your actions push them too far away. These are all great things I wish I knew before hand, but you have to learn somehow.

There are other things you can do in the base as well. For starters, each base offers their own mechanical upgrades to your vehicle. Everything from your weapons to your engines can be modified and upgraded, providing you have met the requirements. Most of these require you to farm for materials which you can acquire either by blasting debris out of space and collecting it with your scoop, or landing on a planet and taking your rover out for a spin to mine materials from the surface. Doing this will also increase your reputation and allow you to unlock bigger and better upgrades. You can also purchase new ships that you can add to your growing fleet, so you don't have to be stuck with your entry level ship. I even paid off my fine at the base and was now deemed safe.

This is where you start to get a feel for just how deep the water is that you've jumped into (aka - the game you are playing). With all these systems and all these planets you will need to make sure that your craft's engines are up to the task, because networking the surrounding systems into viable flight paths will take a tremendous amount of time. I'm not talking hours here, I'm talking weeks at earliest, but if I'm realistic, it's more towards several months and even years. To appreciate the solitude of space in Elite Dangerous you will be spending a tremendous amount of time travelling to other regions.

That's not to say though that voyaging to these distant planets and systems is going to be boring. Along the way you will encounter undiscovered signals to scan, asteroids to mine and you will encounter other spacecraft that will either be friendly, neutral, or adversarial. All of the Milky Way Galaxy is drawn out in absolute beauty. From the hot surface of stars and suns to the shady darkness of an orbiting moon at night, Elite Dangerous offers up truly spectacular views of celestial bodies. This is also accompanied by a tremendous soundscape of ambient sounds, minimalistic music, and a true sensory barrage of melodic pieces and warm enveloping bass lines. All of this combines to help make Elite Dangerous a game that you will actually have a very hard time putting down.

Now all this content does come with an interesting pricing schedule and content delivery. As I mentioned earlier, Elite Dangerous offers up a core game to play and enjoy; however, it offers up what I like to call "seasonal evolution". What I mean by that is that Elite Dangerous is comprised of a bulk of content. Season 1 started with 1.1 evolving the communication, which then evolved into 1.2 which allowed pilots to fly in groups of 4 to team up and evenly distribute the wealth of their accomplishments. All of this carried over to version 1.6 which marked the end of Season 1, but before it closed there were a ton of new developments that helped to fine tune Elite Dangerous to what it is today.

And what it is today is nothing short of spectacular. This is thanks to the recently released Season 2 of Elite Dangerous, called Horizons. And it's big, I mean really, really huge. From hidden Engineers that can customize your vehicle in a way that you couldn't even dream of to an evolution on the looting and crafting to seamless rover exploration from any base located on any moon or planet. Oh, but that's just what is available now. Coming up next you are going to get multi-crew support (I can already see one of my friends dropping my shields in combat, and another shutting off my engines as I'm trying to escape), the ability to launch your own fighters from your own ship (think TIE fighters from a Star Destroyer), and you'll no longer be some random person who seems to be invisible. In this upcoming Season 2 bundle you'll actually be able to create your own Commander so now you can fly to all of the bases and say that they are your favorite.

Elite Dangerous offers gamers a seemingly unlimited amount of gameplay, and this is reinforced when you settle in and see how titanic the scale and size of the game environment actually is with the amount of possibilities and opportunities that are provided. Sure, there are some issues here and there, but as of right now this game is one of the best MMO-like experiences on the Xbox One. Many games have tried to be a variant of the MMO experience, but Elite Dangerous has damn near mastered the core of what it takes to make an experience last a lifetime. With more modules already released and more on the way, I can't wait to see what Frontier Developments adds to this sensational game.

Overall Score: 8.2 / 10 One Piece: Burning Blood

Over the years we have seen a lot of anime titles from Bandai Namco Games, and while some have been welcomed, some of them haven't. Their latest release, One Piece: Burning Blood, is an attempt to turn a popular anime show into a playable video game. Going into this review I was unaware of this show's existence. Now, that may seem like blasphemy to some of you, and even ignorance to others, but this fact allowed me to approach this game from a point of view that was purely objective. I know what you're thinking already, basing a video game on a show or movie never seems to hit the mark, but this time things will be different right?

The game itself is laid out in episodic form, so think of yourself trying reading a book by scrambling the chapters up and filling in the blanks. The levels consist of an animated sequence which inevitably leads to another fight where you are tasked with either surviving the fight, winning the fight outright, or other things. Upon successful completion of your fight you're treated to a closing cinematic and an overview of the map where you can select your next point in your chapter to play.

If you're reading this and your idea of an antique gaming machine is a PS3, then you may not have heard of One Piece: Burning Blood either. I was shocked to know that this is a wildly popular anime that started back in 1999 and consists of 12 movies and so much more. So, the content in terms of a plot is plentiful; however, in this game I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I'm sure fans are sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches based on my ignorance of the subject matter, but the convoluted story was difficult at best to understand for the unaware like myself.

Now if you're scratching your head and wondering just what the plot is, the most simplistic answer I can provide is that the story is about a young boy named Luffy who teams up with an individual known as Whitebeard and his band of pirates, and they are tasked with rescuing Luffy's brother Ace who has been kidnapped. Whitebeard is also trying to become the Pirate King and that mantle can only be obtained if, and when, he finds the One Piece which is claimed to grant the finder unlimited riches and fame. That is about as simplistic as it gets, and unfortunately if you're like me you won't have the slightest clue what is actually happening within the story. However, even though the plot may be convoluted to those who are not familiar with One Piece, the gameplay itself is surprisingly simple.

When you begin the game you literally are thrown head first into it and expected to survive. I cannot stress enough the importance of going through the options screen for the control scheme, because you will see just how simplistic this game becomes. There is even an option to make the simple controls even simpler, which can make life so much easier for you in the long run. Your A button is for jump, X button attacks, and you can even use the triggers to tag in a member of your 3-person team. You use your LS and RS to move and you can adjust the camera distance, but honestly, I found that keeping the camera close in helped out more, especially when you're talking about over the top anime moves that seem to level a mountain far off in the distance. Being able to close the gap quickly was a big plus, but it seemed like I would be running an intercept path towards my computer AI opponent only to land a few shots, then repeat the process until either time expired or my opponent did.

I found that the earlier opponents were crushed usually by button mashing the X button, but there always seemed to be an imbalance if you will, where not only did the computer AI seem to instantly, and almost constantly, flash guard my attacks, but when we both would land hits on one another, my attacks were shrugged off while my opponent's attacks were bone crushing.

Blocking was usually done by prayer. I would pray that I would block an attack and wait to see if it was answered or not, but most of the time I ended up flat on my back. In terms of combos, there are some to be had, provided you time your input correctly, have proper placement on the screen in relation to your opponent, etc. So you do get a good amount of content if you're looking for a brawler type fighting game, but if you're expecting some frame sensitive, in-depth fighting game, you're going to be disappointed.

Outside of the main story, called Paramount War, One Piece does pack in some other modes as well. One of the modes I frequented was the Wanted Posters mode. This is where I first found a training mode, but in order to unlock this mode, and all the others in the game, you are forced to play through the Paramount War mode until every game mode is unlocked. So until you sit through enough angry Japanese animated characters yelling at one another, you will not be able to literally do anything else in the game. It sort of force feeds the gamer, but maybe that's just the only way to get people to actually sit through the campaign?

Other modes also include an online fighting mode and a pirate battle, which is like a seasonal quest for power and control of a map. Essentially you choose a side to fight for and spend your time browsing a map trying to find destinations to fight where you can increase your team's reputation and expand your power. One Piece: Bad Blood is far from a one trick pony, but the fact that you are forced to subject yourself to the story until everything is unlocked is kind of a big negative.

In terms of how One Piece looks, it's everything you could expect from an over the top anime based game. What looks like a hybrid cel-shaded game provides incredible detail and beauty when you start talking about the game's 40+ fighters to choose from. You read that right, over 40 fighters to choose from; however, you have to unlock a vast majority of them first. Each one of these characters has an ultimate attack that, when triggered, unleashes a barrage of beautiful colors and vivid imagery in a small cutscene that fills up your entire screen.

One Piece is, without a doubt, a pretty game to look at from time to time, unless you're constantly staring at angry Japanese characters that are always yelling, which does tend to happen quite a bit. With the audio there's nothing that particularly stands out. You know there's going to be some form of upbeat anime techno music track, but apart from the constant yelling in Japanese, there's nothing else that screams quality audio work.

For fans of the popular anime show I'm sure that this title will undoubtedly be a big hit; however, for those who have absolutely no idea what One Piece: Burning Blood is about, they will most likely find it a shallow, confusing, and somewhat lackluster experience. And may I mention that all this wonderful confusion can be yours for the low price of a full retail title! Yes, for $59.99 and change, you too can be confused to all ends about the plot, admire beautiful graphics during the cinematics and fight sequences, and learn how to yell at someone in Japanese, since it appears that 90% of the time that's all the characters do.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Hard Reset Redux

About half a decade ago, developer Flying Wild Hog released a game on the PC called Hard Reset. Now after all this time they have decided to release Hard Reset on the Xbox One console with a "Redux" edition. Priced in at $19.99, or 1/3 of a regular retail priced game, Hard Reset Redux is tipping the scales on the higher end of some of Xbox's "budget titles". So the question is: Does adding the word "Redux" to a game title make it worthy of charging gamers a premium price?

Starting off, the story and loading screens are executed in a comic book style. Images dash in their confined boxes as they tell the tale of Major Fletcher and his day from hell. The premise of the story is that Earth has once again fallen upon hard times and humanity is almost completely obliterated. This is due to an ongoing war between man and machine. Think of this more along the lines of a dark and gritty Terminator type future with a mixture of a few cerebral Matrix elements sprinkled in. You live in the last remaining city, Bezoar, and having finished your protection shift you think that your night is done; but it's just beginning. During an emergency you must seek out Dr. Novak and you end up doing some form of Matrix mind meld, and it's here the game opens up and Hard Reset Redux delivers its average story.

Each of the game's stages are fairly linear with a healthy dose of backtracking and puzzle solving mixed in between the constant shooting, all in an effort to give Hard Reset Redux a little bit of spice. I'm not talking about extensively challenging puzzles either, but instead of just going from point A to B you may be required to explore area C in order to go back to A, unlock the door to B, and when going through B it will lead you to D, and so on and so forth. While the levels themselves are fairly generic and straight forward, this release being the Redux gives you new enemy placements and even a new bad guy or two. Every level is also riddled with secret areas, but sometimes they aren't so secretive. Let me explain.

In Hard Reset Redux you need to collect NANO, which is an orange glowing cube that acts as currency to upgrade your various weapons (ammunition or plasma) or your combat suit. Again, nothing we haven't seen a million times already, but the execution is done on a quality scale. In order to collect NANO you'll have to scour the levels and blast away doors, walls, ceilings, and more to find the bulk of the hidden areas, but sometimes they are found just by walking around to the other side of a crate. One rule of thumb that I went by was if I saw a large stack of NANO sitting in an area that looks like I had to figure out a pathway to it, then that would be a secret area, and sure enough I was right a majority of the time. Now while we are on the topic of upgrades...

It must be noted that the graphics have received an extensive overhaul for this current generation console release, and they could easily be mistaken for a full on Xbox 360 retail release, or even at times an Xbox One retail game. Sure the levels seem fairly detailed and even the enemies themselves seem to hold their own visually, but the real star of the show is your weaponry, more specifically your N.R.G. weapon. While the levels sometimes overflow with enemies, your N.R.G. weapon has multiple variants, one of which fires out arcing electrical blasts that adhere to surfaces and opponents which, when used in groups of enemies, can create some sensational electricity work. And that's when the truth about this game hit me.

Hard Reset Redux isn't trying to be some cash grab release as demonstrated through the graphic upgrades, new weapons, enemies, and more. Instead, this game is all about mindless slaughtering of robotic enemies with a vast number of secrets in every level so you don't feel like your IQ drops while playing. The real fun is felt through the seemingly endless onslaught of varying evil robots of death. That's it in a nutshell and it is the quintessential core of enjoyment which it does really well. The whole campaign is rather short and if you're going to go for those 'cheevos', then be thankful for that as you replay the campaign.

With a price point of $19.99 + tax you start to wonder if the price of admission is worthwhile given that you mostly get some new enemies, a visual overhaul, and a few more gameplay mechanics. But then you see what else has come from the ID@Xbox program and realize that Hard Reset Redux is one of the better releases to come from this publishing program. There are far worse and far cheaper games that you could buy for the cost of this game, but when you see the quality and effort that has been put into this title, you'll wonder why would you look elsewhere? Despite some faults, some flaws, and a few dings here and there, this is a quality shooter for its price.

Overall Score: 7.3 / 10 Soul Axiom

There are certain video game genres that allow gaming companies free reign to deliver their product. Puzzle games are one such genre as companies can chose, or not, to include some form of story that they can weave through the delivery of the puzzles themselves and their ultimate solutions. Soul Axiom, an ID@Xbox title from Wales Interactive, is the latest such game on the Xbox One that tries to do this, and on the surface things seem to be quite promising. But are they? Let's find out.

First off, even before I begin, I have to be honest and say that one of the best qualities of Soul Axiom is the music. Right from the beginning I was quite surprised at the production value of it and I loved how the music changed and shifted throughout the areas. One of the little things that I personally love when reviewing a game is find several points where I can set the controller down and just listen to the music. I ask myself such questions as "How does it feel with the atmosphere of the game?" or "How does it fit with the situation at hand?". These are just a couple of the questions that I tend to ponder when judging the music.

Right from the beginning, Soul Axiom had me hooked. Everything from haunting vocals to melodic synths to fluid, and at timed dynamic, percussion can be found as it permeates every level of this game. If anything, Soul Axiom could easily be enjoyed for the music alone. Ok, now where do we go from here? How about the plot?

There's barely any story here. Let me be more clear, as there is one but you have to spend a tragic amount of time searching for all the clues that would allow you to sit down and figure it out for yourself. Soul Axiom's story is vague in its premise and does a poor job delivering any type of significant plot progression. It had tremendous potential, but as I progressed I found myself becoming less and less interested in the story, and that actually bothers me, because having a premise that the game narrative is a psychological thriller, you would think that there would be some way to keep the puzzles while still delivering a quality story.

Now I know that it's hard to tell a story when you have puzzles as your only outlet, but wow, Soul Axiom could have done a great deal more with such a medium. Think about it. The premise is set upon a digital afterlife where you can receive messages from the 'other world'. Outside of looking like it was taken from Tron, they could have done much, much more. You are tasked with obtaining powers to complete the upcoming stages and puzzles that lay ahead; however, the puzzles are somewhat simplistic, poorly laid out, and require minimal effort to sort out.

These powers I just mentioned though are Soul Axiom's bread and butter. Using different color codes for different puzzle items, your character can phase objects in and out of reality. Keeping with the Tron feel, think derezzed. Other powers include the ability to control and manipulate time such as being able pause it with some objects and more. Each power comes with its own color and assigned button on the d-pad for easy selection, so being able to select what power for what puzzle is never a challenge.

The level design can span great distances, but in the end it offers very little outside of the puzzles themselves. I did however find the whole cyberpunk/Tron-like art style of the visuals put a classic nostalgic touch on the game. It almost reminds me of some of the first CD based mystery games from the past. I just wish where was more done more with it in terms of creating content, and add some more light. I say this because this game sometimes gets dark, almost to the point where you need a seeing eye dog.

The varying levels seemed to develop somewhat as you went through the numerous side memories, but the overall gameplay is very straight forward. Using the A button to jump and the B button to crouch, this makes Soul Axiom easy to just pick up and play without a complex menu system. There is a fault to this simplicity though. While I can understand why it's in place (no complex menu), it becomes the crux of Soul Axiom's destruction. Let's say for instance you spend some time on a level and you happen to encounter a puzzle that you need to solve with the time power. The catch is, if you screw up you are returned to the very beginning and all the traps are reset. Not all the puzzles involve a risk of death thankfully, but the whole feature of the puzzles being reset can become a pain to the point where you literally decide to play something else.

Soul Axiom ultimately tries hard to be something crafty and clever, but along the way it seems there were many issues with the execution of the message. You should be on the edge of your seat if you're experiencing something that wants to be a great psychological thriller, but with Soul Axiom there's little desire to even try to figure out the plot. Creating a game about attachment of memories in a digital afterlife environment, and not give the attachment to the story told throughout the experience, is a fundamental flaw that sadly puts the "ill" in thriller.

Again, I have to say that the music is the best part of this entire game, though that isn't saying much. With so many sources of inspiration that would have set this game up for tremendous success, you can't help but feel that this was an opportunity that sadly missed the mark. Priced at a mind boggling $19.99 + tax, Soul Axiom is a pretty good example of a game that chose quantity over quality. I wish I could say pick this game up, but sadly with all its faults, you're going to want to pass on it until a sale comes.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Overwatch

When you hear the names of companies like Blizzard Entertainment and Activision, your mind starts to draw up images of dungeons, epic quests, massive battles, tons of loot, and even more dungeons. Blizzard's latest game, Overwatch, delivers only a few of these; however, this fact could quite possibly be one of the greatest gifts to gaming. An online multiplayer only experience, Overwatch is Blizzard's latest attempt to take on the FPS genre, and while the beta was good in terms of establishing a courting phase of the game, the final product is just shy of a fantastic masterpiece. This is thanks to Blizzard following the "K.I.S.S." rule, which is Keep It Simple Stupid. So without any more adieu, let's answer the big question: Is this game worth the purchase?

Simply put, and without question, Overwatch is a must have purchase. For starters, the backstory is so comically thin that it means you literally have nothing to concern yourself with, well, that is nothing except kill every enemy you see. That's right, this is the special sauce if you will of Overwatch. It doesn't try to overload you with a plethora of menus or a bombardment of options; it keeps it simple as you only need to kill your foes as you and your teammates try to stay alive and rule the level.

Now even though the core principle of Overwatch is incredibly simplistic, the available character roster is far from it. Coming in at over 20 characters, what Overwatch lacks in multiplayer levels or game types, it more than makes up for with its stable of unique characters, who are over the top, original, and should I say, somewhat stylish.

Normally in a class based shooter game you have a very in-depth and complex control schemes, but that isn't the case in Overwatch. Pressing RT fires your weapon, and buttons such as RB, LT, LB, and more, means that your attention is more focused on the game instead of making sure you push the correct button. I will say that there is a definite learning curve when it comes to almost dumbing down the gameplay controls, but they made it perform like a Ferrari.

I have a favourite in-game character named 'Reaper' who is essentially Death, but with two handheld shotguns. This dual wielding beast has his main shot (hold RT to auto fire your shotguns), a teleport feature (press RB), which allows him to place a marker and instantly warp to that location, and an ability to morph into some form of mist (press LB) that can travel at accelerated speeds while allowing him to not take damage, but he cannot deal damage while in this form as well. His unique power is straight out of Diablo 3's Demon Hunter, where he spins like a top with his arms stretched out firing both shotguns over and over again while chanting "Die... Die... Die...", because what else is Death himself going to say?

Each individual character has their own abilities and feel, but they also pack an individual power that can greatly shift the balance of the game instantly. This power is unlocked only after a circular meter in the bottom center of the screen fills up, and once it does you simply press Y and watch your character literally dominates the battle or insanely supports their team. This power lasts a short time so make sure to use it wisely, otherwise you will have to wait through for it to recharge. If you get killed almost right after using your power, you only lose a small percentage of it, so when you respawn your meter will be still charged at about 80-90% or so.

When you are talking over 20 unique weapon variants and individual powers, as there are that many characters, I cannot stress enough how important it is to go through the training simulator so you can test out each character before jumping online. In doing so you will not only learn the characters basics, but you'll also notice just how beautiful this game actually looks. Each character model is incredibly designed and the levels themselves give off a slight cartoonish feel which plays right into the fantasy setting. From different outfits, phrases, poses, and more, Overwatch has some very stylistic aspects to its presentation.

Remember now, Overwatch is a team based shooter. I know that a very slim amount of you actually care about the whole "team" aspect, but let me tell you why that's probably not the best method going forward. When a game actually packs in a class for a healer, you know that you're going to be needing some assistance in battle. The healers in Overwatch not only act as a real time healing station that can be done over some distance, which helps to keep you safe, but they can do more as well. If you prefer playing healers, give Mercy a try, as a simple press right on the D-Pad whips out a pistol that Dirty Harry himself would feel lucky to own. Hold down the RT with this pistol and watch as this healer starts dropping bodies in her wake.

Not only can the healer class heal you in real time, but they can also increase the damage you deal. Now you can have some of the weaker character’s start hitting the big boys with some oomph, and also have big boys hit like an atom bomb. Sometimes, being a healer isn't the worst thing in the world, and Overwatch almost teases you to play as one.

Now don't get me wrong, among all the good you'll find just a few problems that lurk under the hood. For starters, the time it takes to find matches is decent, but it could be better by connecting under 15-30 seconds. You'll also find a load time when selecting your characters, then waiting another 30 seconds as the game itself loads, add all this together and you're waiting a good 1-2 minutes before you even fire a shot.

When a match starts up and a few kills are exchanged, trouble starts when a couple people drop out. The game automatically kicks you out of the match as it finds a new game because the number of players dips below the minimum threshold. So instead of playing and allowing more people to join, everyone is kicked back out and you start the search process all over again. This is hands down my biggest complaint. Given that the game itself has its core centered on online connectivity, this is what you would consider a slightly important issue.

Now, I know some may disagree with me on this, but I'm not a fan of microtransactions for cosmetic items. Overwatch offers a range of prices all the way up to $39.99 for a set number of Loot Boxes. These Loot Boxes would be most similar to Halo 5's REQ packs. Each Loot Box offers things like stances, outfits, sayings, and more, and they are obtained through your performance in the game and by leveling your character up. Or you could just plunk down $39.99 and get 50 boxes in one go.

Despite a few drawbacks, which aren't deal breakers, Overwatch is one of the best games I've played this year. It's simplistic nature really allows you to just pick up a controller and shoot everything in sight. This is easily a game that will drain countless hours of your life away thanks to its quality, execution, and simplistic core. Blizzard seems to have understood that to make a great game you don't have to complicate it. If you want to game up with me, or anyone else on XboxAddict, send us a friend request! Until then, DIE... DIE... DIE...

Suggestions: Fine tune the connection issues. Maybe drop the player count limit so more people could still play and wait for others to join.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Grand Prix Rock n' Racing

If we set the way-back machine to take us back into the glory days of the NES, you might just remember a racing game called RC Pro Am. This top down arcade racer most likely helped form the foundation and reference for the game I am about to review, Grand Prix Rock N' Racing, the next racing game by EnjoyUp Games. This top down arcade racer attempts to capture the essence and excitement of arcade F1 racing using a top down view and in a boisterous rock and roll environment. Priced at $7.99, does Grand Prix Rock N' Racing take the coveted checkered flag and our money from our wallet, or does it hit a patch of oil, spin out, hit the wall and go up in a ball of flames?

Right from the start there's no denying that Grand Prix Rock N' Racing is designed to push the incredibly overdone cheesy rock and roll music themes while throwing in an announcer that really needs to switch to decaf. This whimsical take is all fine and dandy as you browse the main menu and see that the only modes you can select from are Championship, Time Trial, Multiplayer, and Settings but when racing it's a whole other thing.

Settings shows you your button layout which is your traditional RT for gas, LT for break, B button for boost, and A, Y, and RB for gear switching, and of course click the RS to center your car. The latter is something that you will soon find to become more important to your racing in this game than breathing. You can also choose to raise and lower the music and the sound effects volume, but that’s it. No more options to select from, so now let's begin with Championship mode.

That is, if you can call it that. There are 10 race tracks that span all over the globe which equate to just different layouts and different skins, but be ready for what could easily be one of the more unenjoyable driving experiences you'll ever have. When selecting Championship mode you'll have to create a new file because obviously you haven't played this yet.

The first stop is an oval track in the USA. Pressing Y before the match brings up an upgrade menu that you can access before every race, and it's here where you can upgrade your speed, brakes, acceleration, turbo, and more. Pressing start will begin the race and you'll find yourself at the back of the pack. Now there's a tip on the settings screen where it says you can get a boost to your start if you press and hold the throttle when you hear the over caffeinated announcer shout "GO!", and so far there's about as much truth to that as there is to the Loch Ness Monster.

As the race begins your car begins to crawl, and I mean crawl at a snail's pace, and while your opponents start slow as well they still somehow manage to dart away after a few seconds. So now you've finally got momentum and here comes an oncoming left hand turn. Before you know it your car has collided directly into the wall thanks to the really questionable handling of your race car. It's at this point that I have to remind you, the reader, that this game is touted as one that possesses "realistic driving physics" as one of its selling points, yet it's nowhere to be found. So you've now crashed into the wall and you'll notice a circle around your car, it's at this point in time when you can press in the RS to center your car on the track and get going again (you will be doing this a lot).

You're on the move again (starting from a pace where you could drive Miss Daisy) and you're thankful that there is an oncoming straight away, all of a sudden you realize that for some reason you are being passed and you haven't made it out of the back straight. You may gain a position or two thanks to the AI deliberately crashing into each other or the wall, but then here comes another turn and by now you'll probably notice that hitting the breaks on this arcade racer makes you balance between a dead stop, full throttle, and everything in between. You muster your nerves and manage to go through the turn without incident, then onto the home straight. By the time you finish you will be lucky to place in the top 10 as you move onto the next track in the circuit and this one has a hairpin. Have fun.

Depending on where you place in your Championship race determines how many upgrade tokens you get to spend on your car. I personally managed, through the grace of God, to come in 7th place and earned a few upgrade tokens. I upgraded my handling, acceleration, turbo, and speed. This still made my car almost completely useless as I ended up taking 14th place in the next race. I understand that you have to build a competent race car with proper stats and "Clarksonian powerrrrrrr", but that forces you to play these race tracks quite a bit more than you want to.

Perplexed as to why the car accelerated at a snail's pace from the start and handled really badly in the Championship mode, I went to select Time Trial to see if this performance issue plagued this mode as well. Thankfully I can say that in Time Trial the car felt more responsive and not as sluggish or lethargic, and my times were consistently improving with each lap. I then went back to the Championship mode and WHAM, I'm right back into a horrible driving setup. I have no idea why your car decides not to accelerate from the start or handle so poorly, but if you play the Time Trial mode then you'll get a feel for how this game should be played. It's a shame though considering you're just doing Time Trials and not making progress.

Multiplayer is more of the same where you and three other friends can locally sign in, customize your cars, and race together. I don't know why you would want to do that, but the option is available, and after playing it I found myself going back to Time Trial just to have a proper handling and somewhat better accelerating car.

I was a bit disappointed to also discover that the races in Championship mode don't have a restart option (I don't know why, it would be very helpful). So every time you crash and wreck and end up in 19th place you have to exit completely back to the main menu and set up the race again to try once more. This means you have to sit through a lengthy loading animation that does very little except to showcase an over eager announcer and some ridiculous rock and roll music.

For $7.99 (USD) + tax I would say that if you're that hard up for some top down arcade racing game reminiscent of the quality RC Pro Am days, then look somewhere else. If you're a serious glutton for punishment though, you'll be hard pressed to find a racing game of any kind for under the $10 mark. But remember dear reader, you get what you pay for with this title.

Overall Score: 3.0 / 10 Killer Instinct Season 3

The time has come for a new season of Killer Instinct, and not only does it deliver a powerful message to the competition, but it single-handedly puts KI in contention for best fighting game on the market today. Since the original KI back in the days of the arcade, this game has captured my interest to the point where I can say without question that it would have been cheaper to buy an arcade unit instead of dumping a small fortune into a machine at the local bowling alley.

Killer Instinct on the Xbox One has managed to somewhat dominate the fighting arena for so long that support continues to build for this iconic franchise. Iron Galaxy went through Season 2 by adding more classical characters, but Season 3 is said to offer the best lineup yet. So does it? Enough chit chat, let's dive into Season 3 and find out just what you get for your money, and what version is right for you!

It goes without saying that Season 3 of Killer Instinct introduces four out of eight new characters right from the start. Now Kim Wu, Tusk, Rash from Battletoads, and even the Arbiter from Halo itself are added to the roster, putting the total count of characters at 22 with Mira, Gargos, General RAAM from Gears of War, and a mystery character to be named later, on the way. I was wondering what they could do to top Season 2, but with this lineup of characters, Killer Instinct just threw down the gauntlet and gave all of the other fighting games the middle finger.

It goes without saying that Season 3 of Killer Instinct introduces four out of eight new characters right from the start. Now Kim Wu, Tusk, Rash from Battletoads, and even the Arbiter from Halo itself are added to the roster, putting the total count of characters at 22 with Mira, Gargos, General RAAM from Gears of War, and a mystery character to be named later, on the way. I was wondering what they could do to top Season 2, but with this lineup of characters, Killer Instinct just threw down the gauntlet and gave all of the other fighting games the middle finger.

For veterans of Killer Instinct, having Kim Wu and Tusk will be a nice touch, but the detail and representation of the new characters Rash and the Arbiter is truly amazing. Rash still comes off as a brawler but go into Instinct Mode and BAM, you are unleashing his off-the-deep-end style of animation and movements from the original game that also includes the original sound effects. But that's not all, because when you go into Instinct Mode you can call up the speeder-bike and start wrecking your opponent. Now this level of detail also applies to the other new kid on the fighting block; the Arbiter.

Now throwing a character like Arbiter into a fighting game may seem like it's out of place, but then you realize it; you're playing as the Arbiter! The Arbiter's stage has become one of my all-time favorites as it places you in the Arena of Judgement, with an entire Halo war unfolding before your eyes in the background. To say that they set the stage of a lifetime is an understatement. Arbiter comes stocked with some pretty nice moves and tools at his disposal. Sure you have your energy sword, but you also have some sticky grenades that will replenish themselves if given time, a covenant carbine with limited ammo (that you can restock with more moves when used in a combo) and you even have a cloaking ability and energy shield! While sluggish in movement, the Arbiter can deal tremendous damage incredibly fast and should always be taken seriously. Hands down the Arbiter is my favorite new addition to Killer Instinct. Thank you Iron Galaxy.

The other big change of Season 3 comes in the more technical sides by offering things like balancing some of the game's existing characters, matchmaking improvements based on skill level, and more. This technical balancing act is all part of the next big addition which is that Killer Instinct is available on PC through Windows 10 as well. Now, you might be saying that you already own it on your Xbox One, but if you get Season 3 then all your data will transfer over to your PC for free. It's these types of innovations that keep not only a series growing, but legends forming.

And those legends are going to be formed in the upcoming Shadow Lords mode releasing later this season. The few details that we do know currently is staggering. We know that Gargos will be introduced as the boss character for this upcoming mode. It will be up to you to take out Gargos' fighters with a team that you form. Crafting new items will also be available and this comes along with KI gold and more microtransactions.

Now you may be wondering to yourself if you already have Killer Instinct Season 1 and 2, is there a need to buy Season 3? Well, we here at XBA think you do. That being said, there are some different pricing options for you to choose from.

Combo Breaker ($19.99 + tax USD) - This version gets you all four currently available new characters and all the rest of the content as it's released over the season.

Ultra Edition ($39.99 + tax USD} - This version includes all of the Combo Breaker content, but you also get early access to the fighters. Also included are a VIP Double XP Booster, 8 retro costumes, accessory sets, and a whole new bonus retro color for all eight of the Season 3 characters. And finally, you get 18,000 KI Gold (this is a limited time offer (how limited? I honestly don't know).

Supreme Edition ($59.99 + tax USD) - This is the ultimate bundle for Killer Instinct as you get all of Season 1, 2, and 3 characters so you can instantly dive in with over 25 characters at your fingertips. Also included is all the content from all three Ultra Editions which means all the costumes, accessories, 18,000 KI Gold (Limited time offer), bonus colors for the Season 3 fighters, and VIP Double XP Boost. Plus, you also get Killer Instinct 2 Classic AND Killer Instinct Classic both on Xbox One (but are not included in the Windows 10 version).

If you have been on the fence about jumping into the Killer Instinct arena, then the Supreme Edition is going to be perfect for you because it gets you right into the game at its most current version with the biggest amount of player support. If you already have Season 1 and Season 2, then you can get all the characters for only $19.99, but double that and you get more than double the content so the choice is really on how you put a value on what is added for the $39.99 price tag.

Regardless of what version you select there is one undeniable fact that Killer Instinct Season 3 has catapulted this game as a serious contender for best fighting game on the market today. We think it's a worth addition to any fighting fan's library of gamers. See you in the arena!

Suggestions: Think of new outlets to explore with not only other games (maybe Dragon Age or Mass Effect?), but movies and other media for new potential character additions.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Doom

From the days of the 3.5" floppy disks (some of you may not even know what these are), id Software has done a tremendous job captivating our souls as we send them straight to the depths of Hell. The original DOOM was released on PC in 1993 and it's pixelated look and scared millions of gamers around the planet while attracting droves more to play, and now a reboot of the original is upon us and Hell has never looked so gory or menacing. Psychotic, bloody, and over the top, are all words and phrases that can describe DOOM, but in this reboot your biggest weapon of destruction isn't only your BFG 9000, but your bare hands too. Come, let's trudge through the broken bones, blood stained smears, and horrific screams of the satanic demons as we see just how twisted the minds of id Software truly are.

DOOM, for those of you living on a different planet for over the last quarter century, is a FPS traditional survival horror story about your character awakening on an outpost on Mars only to find that some form of experimentation has gone horribly wrong as it has opened the gates to Hell itself and now all that stands between the destruction or salvation of mankind is you. The story isn't complex or convoluted in its delivery, but it still offers a few "OMG" moments. The real strength of the campaign however is the action within the campaign, which I'm thankful to report is extensive and plentiful. While the levels leave very little to exploration due to their linear nature, there are a couple nooks, crannies and secrets scattered throughout every level in DOOM's campaign which helps keep the whole discovery feeling fresh in your mind.

Within each level you will find a secret passage that takes you to a section where you can actually play an original Doom level from decades ago, but now with the more modernized monsters. It's incredible because when you go through these bonus sections you expect to find pixelated monsters from hell attacking you, but when you see highly detailed ferocious creatures lunging towards your skull, you realize quickly that this DOOM reboot is far more than what you were expecting. You'll also discover in some levels a series of scattered challenges called Rune challenges. These require you to complete a certain task within the allotted time limit and upon completion you are rewarded with a Rune stone which will grant you certain enhanced abilities or powers that can be equipped to really change the tide of war, but that's not the only item that allows for upgrades.

Doom has always prided itself on having a devastating arsenal of weaponry, and here your guns can be upgraded through modifications that give them different properties. For example, the combat shotgun is a DOOM favorite for many players, but now this weapon has two modifications that you can unlock, the first allows it to fire either a three round burst while the second allows it to fire one explosive round. I personally chose to unlock the explosive round because I know that DOOM games love to pack some heavy hitting enemies. This explosive round modification can be upgraded through collectible weapon mods or by the completion of certain instances that grant you weapon upgrades.

There are a total of four levels of upgrades which cost an increased amount for each one, but once you unlock the final upgrade for the explosive shotgun round you need to complete the individual challenge to gain "mastery" of the modification. In this case you need to do 20 direct explosive shots on imps (the ones that hurl fireballs at you, run fast, can be elusive at times, and yes I know that I just described a bunch of enemies in Doom). Once you complete this task every charged shot from your shotgun that is a direct hit will explode in a napalm like fashion that spawns other explosive shells that also go boom. Modifying your weaponry becomes paramount to successfully completing DOOM and escaping with your very soul, but we're not done yet.

On top of the Rune challenges I talked about earlier, your suit can also be modified in a similar fashion to your weaponry. Through items called Argent Cells, you can upgrade your Health, Armor, and Ammo Capacity, but snag yourself some Praetor Suit upgrades from fallen soldiers and you can withstand more damage from explosive barrels, move at full speed while aiming down sights, unlock every hidden item in the level and so much more. This upgrading ability goes a long way to converting your basic generic armor suit into its own weapon of mass destruction. This is why I mentioned earlier that your bare hands become one of your best weapons. Sure you have your BFG 9000, Rocket Launcher, or Plasma Cannon, but your fists bring forth so much death that the reaper himself would be proud. This is all thanks to the combat of DOOM which ultimately is the reason you have to play it. Let me explain.

Instead of just shooting until you see organs fly through the air, enemies will glow either blue or red when you deal enough damage before death. This is the moment of opportunity for you to charge into point blank range and use your hands to brutally execute your enemy in a variety of different ways. Things like tossing your enemy against a wall then using your boot to crush their head into a bloody smear, or jumping down from above and curb stomping their cranium into a goo like paste are just some of the various ways your suit becomes such a lethal weapon in the game. There's also a benefit that comes along with destroying your enemies with your bare hands, not only is it satisfying beyond description, but every enemy you kill this way will drop a health pickup which can be advantageous if you are running low. This almost forces you to get up close and personal with the demons of Hell and I personally wouldn't have it any other way.

Given the extensive amount of detail to the single player campaign I'd like to say that the same for the multiplayer, but this is not the case, and instead of this being a negative it actually is a positive. How is that possible? Well keeping things streamlined and simplified turns out to be the best possible option for the multiplayer. With a more "Quake" type feel, multiplayer allows you to go through a small variety of gametypes with one goal in mind, kill everything. Definitely entertaining, but sadly not on the same type replay level as other FPS games.

The real innovation though comes through a new addition to DOOM called SnapMap. SnapMap is essentially a level creator where you get to design your own multiplayer games. It's far from the scope of other map editors in games such as FarCry and Halo, but it's also much less detailed oriented. Although you have a scarce amount of options at your disposal, I still recommend using the tutorial to help you familiarize yourself with how SnapMap works. With such limited tools at your fingertips, I hope that this feature gets more updated content to allow users' imaginations to run wild. While not as exciting or entertaining as the campaign, it's far from a disappointment and adds to the game's feel and dare I say, depth and some innovation for the series.

From its early days until now, DOOM has undergone a metamorphosis unlike we've seen in the gaming world. Not many icons have transitioned so well into the current generation of gaming, but one thing is certain, and it is that id Software has done a fantastic job bringing the demonic and the satanic to life in a way that only DOOM could. While I do wish there was a bit more horror and terror (I wasn't really terrified throughout my experience), I'm glad that id Software decided to focus on what made DOOM so great from the beginning and that's killing everything without remorse or hesitation. If you're looking for a new beginning for an icon of FPS gaming, then DOOM is for you. As for fans of the franchise, you'll be happy too. In fact, I'm on my way now to go slaughter some more demons in Hell. See you down there!

Suggestions: In the upcoming sequels (because let's face it, we know that they're already in development), please bring back a strong element of horror. I believe Guillermo Del Toro would be a fantastic asset for horror consultation. If you decide to go that route, I'd love to see the path this takes.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Battleborn

Ever hear the phrase: "A Jack of all trades is a master of none?" It's a phrase that fits a game that seems to have some self-identifying issues to contend with. When you hear the name Gearbox, you automatically know you're in for a quality ride with some serious strait jackets, a bottle of liquor, and more explosions than a Michael Bay movie. Battleborn is the latest venture away from the Vaults and Pandora, and Gearbox is taking aim at creating a fun and addictive shooter-moba-loot-kill-everything type game thing and I realized that this is a game that wears many hats, almost like a 'Jack of all trades'.

These many hats belong to the whopping MOBA-style, 25-character roster that becomes the foundation of Battleborn. If you have ever wanted to play a game in a wide variety of ways, then 2K Games latest release has you covered. Not all characters are available at the beginning though and most are unlocked through completing campaign missions or specific challenges. This very deep pool of superegos varies in their play style, but they all have upgradable DNA (their version of an ability tree) that allow each character to transfer into a total badass.

This double helix allows you to select a development path for your abilities as you level up, which is fairly simplistic in nature. Reach a certain level, choose between two possible upgrades, rinse and repeat until you come to the end of your development where you will realize that your character has become a one-person wrecking crew, and that your skill tree resets back to the beginning with each new mission.

My Oscar Mike soldier became what seemed to be an unstoppable force by the end of each campaign level. Armed with a grenade launcher, orbital attack, stealth camouflage, and an automatic assault rifle, it was almost unfair. My grenades were sprouting more grenades that all burst into flames, ammo for my assault rifle would penetrate enemy shields, my orbital strike went through floors so I could target enemies indoors, and it was extreme chaos so long as my shield stayed active and my health did not deplete.

Shield management became paramount as I would unload multiple clips until I noticed the shield meter drop, then I hid until it recharged and I popped back out and take on more enemies. This is how the combat is laid out in Battleborn though. You fight X amount of bad guys in one area, then move to the next area and fight X amount more. Collect currency and treasure in-between fights throughout the expansive, yet linear levels, and you have the total summation of what the Battleborn campaign is all about; kill everything and have fun doing it.

The Battleborn Prologue starts out like some adult Saturday morning cartoon. Over the top action that tries to lay the groundwork for what will become an incredibly short, but filled to the brim with action, campaign. Eight levels of intense spell slinging, grenade throwing, sword cutting action that feels detached from the game. Without any real sense of conformity or reason to do what you need to do, the single player campaign has been stitched together like some enormous quilt of heavily medicated visions. Sure there's a start and an end point, but Battleborn doesn't really care about the plot and if you're into action, and I mean an obscene amount of action, then you may not mind the lack of a cohesive plot so much.

There is a jewel within this quilt however, and that is every stitch is a masterful piece of writing. Even though it scarcely makes any sense, the humor of the Battleborn script almost feels like you could look up into the skies and see Pandora itself. There's no question that Battleborn is a beautiful game. The whole cartoonish feel adds a characteristic quality of frivolity to the experience.

Battleborn is a shooter that thrives on the multiplayer experience, which also includes the campaign. Going through the levels by yourself, you will not only be limited as to what you can achieve in terms of exploration and challenge completion, but you're also denying yourself one hell of a good time. Earlier I touched on character development and turning your hero into a raging beast of dominance, but in Battleborn what if you can take a whole team of raging beasts of dominance heroes? You can.

Rampaging and crushing through levels with overpowered displays of unbridled power, Battleborn takes you on a roller-coaster ride that you never want to end. This multiplayer experience is the core of Battleborn which also means that the dedicated multiplayer section should provide a sustainable wealth of content, but it doesn't. Clocking in with a grand total of six, yes six maps, Battleborn's multiplayer feels rather anemic as it is stripped down and broken into three types of multiplayer games, and each mode has two maps. Let me repeat that. Two maps. There are some more serious dents in the infrastructure of the multiplayer experience too.

One great example of this is when your multiplayer game is over you are automatically kicked back to the main menu thus forcing you to reconnect. There's more as well, including when you start tossing the word 'microtransactions' around. You can purchase cosmetic items through the individual packs that are released, or you can save some cash and purchase Battleborn's Season Pass that will add on an additional $20 USD and consists of five packs of new skins and taunts and one new story operation. Finally, you can get the deluxe edition of Battleborn for $75 which also includes the Season Pass plus some exclusive cosmetic items, you know, so you can show off to your friends how much money you spent on a game.

It feels as though Battleborn wanted to be so much of everything including an RPG, a MOBA, an FPS, and the list goes on, but instead of trying to be good at everything, I would suggest that it should have been great at a few things. It's a shame really because there is tremendous potential here and I can actually see Battleborn becoming another great IP from Gearbox, but only after they iron out the technical issues with the multiplayer connectivity, the length of the campaign, the amount of multiplayer levels, etc. So, Should you go out and play this game? Without hesitation I say yes, as even though there are many faults, Battleborn becomes the hardcore beast of action entertainment and explosions that it would make even Deadpool give a pronounced slow golf clap.

Suggestions: A few technical issues to work out, plus some more content for the multiplayer section instead of grinding out campaign missions.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 MagNets: Fully Charged

When you're a game company that wants to make a fun lighthearted platformer with some puzzle elements thrown in, you have a lot of source material to draw inspiration from. The problem is that most of the time inspiration for something innovative is hard to come by, which leads us to our latest XBA review. From the minds of Total Monkery, MagNets: Fully Charged finally lands on the Xbox One from its original PC origins. A fun adventurous platformer with some light puzzles thrown in for grins, and a whopping $14.99 + tax price point attached, MagNets: Fully Charged tries to attract your money from your wallet. Should you let it? Let's find out.

I have to point out that the game has a multiplayer option that you can clearly see on the screen, but it's not selectable. You can see it clear as day, but you can't actually choose it. I even connected a second controller for local play and it still wouldn't let me select it, so I don't know who wrote "local multiplayer" on the game description or if it was just a bug that I was experiencing, but either way, it wasn't playable and with that said, let’s move on shall we?

MagNets is broken into four regions that each consist of five varying levels. These levels are fairly linear in design and will quickly become, through much trial and error, quite underwhelming. All of that is thanks to the basic essence of this game itself; let me explain why.

The story involves your character, a park ranger, yes a park ranger, who apparently gets in trouble with a glowing bean-like character that looks like a reject from Futurama. You are tasked with going to areas of the park that aren't secured. While doing so you have to deal with BoxBots, that for some reason decided that today of all days all of them would act out by commiting acts of random violence. Ummmm...ok, now how do you secure an area?

Using either the left or right trigger, you get your character to create a magnetic ring around the BoxBots to stun them, then while they are stunned you make another ring around them and turn them into scrap. You take this scrap and deposit it into a recycle machine that will then produce an item of importance after so much scrap is gathered. Your character then takes the item produced to the target area, place it in the slot where it's supposed to go and boom, just like that the area is secured. Then you rinse and repeat and do it all over again. To be completely honest, I'm already getting bored just thinking about it.

While the innovation of the magnetic ring is nice, the later levels that involve a higher concentration of BoxBots that not only explode but shoot laser beams at you and they require almost constant motion. Throw in meaningless gameplay controls such as the ground stomp, that does no damage but does stun the BoxBots which allosw you to try and gain the first of your two stun rings, and you have a gameplay mechanic that will leave you perplexed to say it best.

MagNets has some issues when it comes to keeping your attention and heightening your enjoyment, even though it does offer some decent graphics to look at. The various levels after the intro park level offer up a nice change of scenery, and as you work your way to the boss fight you'll be able to see some colorful imagery that runs at a smooth 60 fps. This is all great, but then there is the in-game music.

Just when you think that there's something good about this game, here comes another knock against it. Playing throughout the levels I found myself becoming annoyed with the repetitive pop/techno loops that weren't that good. Eventually I turned off the music all together and found my gaming experience somewhat improved, which shouldn't happen when you turn off a game's soundtrack.

Other little nuances seemed to get to me as well. An example of this is that I had no clue where some of these recycle bins were located as there is no mini-map at all. I was aware where the targets were that were under attack thanks to a simple red circle and an arrow, but with no map I would find myself wandering around aimlessly while trying to find a place where I could turn my scrap into objects, and then find where these objects go.

When you combine all the issues that this game has, you realize that that MagNets suffers because of it. For essentially $15 you get a less than mediocre single player game that is hard to recommend. Having released back in 2015 on the PC, you start to feel that this was more of a quick port than anything else. Sadly MagNets: Fully Charged is a pass.

Overall Score: 4.7 / 10 Party Hard

As we near the summer months, we say goodbye to snow and hello to sunshine. Goodbye to staying indoors and hello to parties all over the world! Party Hard by Pinokl Games is a recent release under the ID@Xbox program, and for $12.99 you can partake in the antics of a serial killer bent on one thing: to finally get some peace and quiet. So how does Party Hard fare and should you buy it? Let's look inside and see what we can find.

As soon as you begin you'll notice that Party Hard does a fantastic job paying homage to some of the best in electronic music. Going into the main mission selection screen you're treated to what can be described as a pixelated treatment of Daft Punk "Get Lucky", so already I have love for Pinokl Games.

As you begin Party Hard, you'll notice that this game tends to stray towards what one could consider to be a bad cop drama trope. Trying to not take itself too seriously, Party Hard delivers what I would like to call, "intentionally horrible voice over acting". What I mean by that is that Party Hard knows going into this that it's not going to end well, so why not put your foot down and over exaggerate everything to play off of itself?

You play the role of a man who is just trying to get some sleep, but when he is awoken by a noisy house party at 3:00 A.M. with no signs of ever stopping, you reach for your modified Jason hockey mask, grab your blade, and go crash the party. The story itself of Party Hard isn't that entertaining or captivating, but along the way you're treated to a B horror movie with homage to great horror flicks such as Psycho and other classics.

As you navigate the party you will find that the layouts are slightly randomized as they switch whenever your character dies or becomes busted by the police and you need to replay a level. First and foremost, the control scheme for Party Hard is almost as simplistic as it gets. The 'Left Stick' is used for your movement while the 'X' and 'Y' buttons are used for stabbing and executing traps. Your character can sprint using the 'Right Trigger' but that is fairly limited and in the end does very little in terms of escaping cops when needed.

It's safe to say that the learning curve for the control scheme is damn near flat lined and you will find yourself spending more time waiting for the opportunity to activate a trap or stab someone with your knife instead. Each one of these parties takes you to various location such as a yacht party that's surrounded by man eating sharks, a Las Vegas night club where you need to worry about bank robbers, to even a roof top disco party where the dance floor can literally kill you. While these different scenes play in to the ludicrous storyline, there's one thing that can't be denied: the pixel art is fantastic.

I know that it's not ultra-modern HD super realistic graphics, but sometimes if done right, less is definitely more, and that's the case with Party Hard. The real treat is how these characters dress up, as you'll see characters such as Ronald McDonald, Hulk Hogan, Dracula, and so much more that it really becomes comical in a sense to see just who is attending these parties. One time I had Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre appear and he tore through everyone until a cop finally put him down, showcasing pixel gore at its finest.

This also goes the same for some of the traps throughout the various levels. I thoroughly enjoyed pissing off a bull, causing it to charge across the map while wiping out everyone in its path. I also thoroughly enjoyed watching an entire dance floor of people break out into a conga line, where I then hit the switch and sent the entire dance floor up in flames. As you progress you can collect items such as stun bombs, changes of clothes, and more to help you kill. The stun bomb works wonders if you have a large crowd because once it goes off it will literally knock out everyone nearby and open them up for easy killing and escape.

While utilizing traps and navigating through the various levels can be entertaining, the real beauty of this game is the audio, though not all the audio is worth praise. For instance, every level has its own music which is heavily inspired by great tunes already out there, so kudos to the developers for that but The problem is not only in the voice acting but the yells and screams coming from the guests themselves when you start slaughtering. When you just happen to leave a body around, it's not uncommon to hear at least 10 screams or yells, or a mixture of both, and when you're talking about slaughtering over 45 people, that amounts to a lot of yelling and that becomes very annoying quite quickly.

While yes, it goes without saying that this game does tap into something that is sort of mind numbing enjoyable, do I think it's worth the $12.99? Only if you buy it on Friday the 13th. I would say that if Party Hard were on sale for $7.99 or below then it would be a much better bargain. The humor is lackluster and there are setbacks that really seem to deflate the fun from this game. The sheer amount of repetition will have you struggling to complete the game, but thankfully the 26 achievements will award you for your trudging efforts.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Gunscape

Ever since the olden days of Wolfenstein and Doom, gamers around the globe have invested countless hours in classic FPS games. Developer Blowfish Games has recently created a FPS called Gunscape that attempts to resurrect these hours of enjoyment from decades ago while also attempting to bring them into the current-gen platform by giving you a map editor.

Gunscape seems like it will be a fairly straight forward FPS game; however, after an incredibly short 8-level story mode that is absolutely irrelevant, you will have come to grips with the mechanics and play style of Gunscape. In case you were curious as to the campaign, it involves you infiltrating a secret installation to gain access to DOLOS, which is tasked for one thing; to become the ultimate AI weapon on the planet. You will not only have to read dialogue that attempts to be humorous at times, but you will gain knowledge on how switches and other items work within the game parameters, which is key when you take into account this game's soul is focused around one thing: a players ability to create new content of their own.

That's right folks, Gunscape's soul is based around the game's map editor. Using a simplistic method of construction, Gunscape allows you to create either your own multiplayer maps of various gametypes or campaign maps which can then be shared with the online gaming world. It goes without saying that the traditional gametypes are included, such as Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Free For All, Last Man Standing, and Infection gametypes to name a few.

You use the cubes that are provided at your disposal such as terrain blocks, but these have more uses than just a "floor". Some are angled so that you can create ramps, stairs, and more advanced shapes. However, while creating a strong foundation is important, Gunscape allows you to customize your levels with items such as statues and more to help give it your own personal touch. As you build and develop your levels you'll also have the ability to place special elements, such as dash/jump pads, teleporters, elevators and so on, on your created map

This gives you a tremendous ability to create some spectacular maps on your own, but you'll also see that
Gunscape loves to pay homage to classic shooters as their theme packs clearly show some generic tributes to games such as Quake, Bioshock, Portal, Doom, and so much more. This means that you can mix and match your blocks from varying themes making your possible combinations limitless as you will always have a tremendous amount of content to create, play, and enjoy.

But in the mix of all of this, there is a couple things that seem hurt this game somewhat. For starters, when you create a map you're limited to the AI enemies and their reaction within the map you're building. When I say limited to, what I mean to say is that you have barely any choice at all. Sadly, you can't adjust it and the theme packs have very little in terms of variety when it comes to your available AI enemies. It's this limitation that can tend to hold this game back and you can't have a setback like this affecting your main characteristic of your game.

Normally if that was the only fault, even though it's a large one, I could tolerate it; however, this isn't the only mark against Gunscape. Going through the build mode it became a chore and a half thanks to the stability issues that I had with it. Instead of having a bout of bad lag here and there I was the recipient of full on freezing. Thank the heavens I hadn't been investing hours and hours developing a level before it all crashed to the floor.

The stability issues continued well into the single player, but at the time of review I could not find one single multiplayer game to join. So while the network issues plagued the single player and build mode, I could not find a multiplayer match to see if they continued via that mode. I also noticed that my signal strength for the first time was jumping rapidly all over the place. I'd get 1 red bar, then 3 green, then 2 green, then 4 green, then 1 red bar, and the cycle would continue. This had nothing to do with the signal coming to my modem as I am
hard wired into my Xbox One and all my other games run smooth as silk.

When you create a FPS and you want to pay tribute to classics that have paved the way for this game to even exist, you want to make sure that you use those icons as a reference point on what to do. I don't see that here at all and it pains me to say that. For $20 you should get a game that offers more, and while Gunscape tries to do that, the stability issues are almost insurmountable as you cannot have these issues when you don't have much else packed into the game itself. If you're looking for a trip down nostalgia road then this will do it for you. If you're looking for a classic iconic experience, then look somewhere else or save your $20.00 for another time.

Suggestions: Please work on stability issues to make this game more enjoyable.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Lichdom: Battlemage

While many have not heard of the company Xaviant, their first person mage game called Lichdom: Battlemage has finally made it onto Xbox One after almost 2 years on PC. Priced at $49.99 this is a game characterized as a first person caster where you are given a ridiculous amount of spells and a massive cult army to dispose of in your journey ahead. However, is this game worth the $50 price tag, or has this game's enjoyment gone up in a proverbial puff of smoke? Well let's begin to unlock the mystery behind Lichdom: Battlemage.

You will notice right away that the options are, for lack of a better word, scarce. You have no option to adjust brightness, though you do have the ability to adjust the sound. Instantly this becomes an issue because of the game's naturally dark settings. When a proper light source is lacking you feel a little like Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder in terms of your visibility, which could have been helped by any sort of brightness control.

This can be quite frustrating, as a few times while focused in battle I managed to find the one hole in the floor and fall through it due to lack of visibility, the result being having to respawn quite a distance away and the enemies I just killed came back to life. A brightness slider would have made a world difference in my time with Lichdom: Battlemage. Nevertheless, let's press on.

As you begin your journey you will notice first off that the control scheme is somewhat troublesome, and at times it feels as if it's borderline unplayable. As a default, your control sensitivity starts out under the '4' setting, but you will quickly set it to '1' just to be able to focus on not running into walls. Even when setting the sensitivity is this low you will notice that walking makes you almost feel as if you're flying, and running makes you feel like you're going into light speed.

The next issue you'll come across is that there is no targeting marker at all. None. Instead, you are given what almost equates to an 'auto lock-on' feature that is based off in relation to the enemy you're facing. You don't see the lock on, but it's there and you can't toggle your target unless you decide to go after another enemy by changing focus completely. When you're talking about having multiple enemies in the distance, it's very hard to auto target and switch when your control scheme feels like it's had 20 shots of espresso.

You would think that wielding two magical gauntlets on both hands would enable you to readily target two enemies as well. Nope. To top off all of this nonsense, you have a simplistic control scheme where you have three banks of spells (Y, X, and B buttons) to select from on the fly and your LB is utilized for blocking. RB is used for a 'blink', a rapid shift in any direction, but there are issues here as well.

Blocking, if done right will perform a riposte that will damage or kill the attacking enemy and injure any others within the blast area. This sounds great until you realize that the swarms that attack you prevent you from doing this. Regular blocking will let some damage through, but not all. I found myself learning fast how to properly use the blink maneuver in order to dodge ranged attacks while opening a window of opportunity to unleash a barrage of destructive spells. The issue I have here is that while you can even customize your shield that you have equipped, this almost makes blocking unnecessary, which then raises the question: why have it? For example, if you charge up your blink dash, your character releases a burst nova where ever they land, so it becomes a heavy offensive tool that will allow you deal damage without receiving any yourself (but you have to charge it first) and the regular quick blink is highly defensive allowing you to again take no damage. So the reason to have blocking again is what??

Your character Dragon, whose name is assigned by the game, has had their life suspended and everything they loved has been destroyed by a demonic group called the Malthus Cult. Apparently this cult is the center of all the undead monsters that are rampaging through your lands, ruining everything in their sight. Thus enter Roth. An incredibly powerful magic wielder who has selected you to become his next apprentice and agrees to help you get revenge on the Malthus Cult by granting you two magical bracelets that allow you to wield unlimited magical power. "Unlimited" may be a bit of a stretch, as you must go through the game's levels and unlock new magical spells and abilities as you progress. This is where the strength of this game really comes through in a big way. You want spells? Lichdom: Battlemage will give you more spells than you've ever seen in your life.

There are a total of 156 base spell types in this game, and from these you can combine and craft literally millions of different combinations and variants, which will come in handy throughout your quest provided you take some time to do some research and learn how the spells interact with one another and the enemies.

This is where the learning curve almost takes a sharp 90 degree turn straight up. Trying to find out what works best for you will take a long time to decipher given the fact that the writing and description of the spells themselves are incredibly small (even playing on a 55" 4K 1080p Samsung UHDTV, the print is damn near microscopic). You will find yourself spending a lot of time at checkpoints as you take a break to see what spells are needed. Trust me, doing this in the heat of battle (since the game doesn't pause) is the wrong time to be adjusting your spells. For example, you will have a fire spell, however this spell can come in three different forms. There's a direct attack, an area of effect (AOE), and a Nova variant. As you progress you will be able to upgrade these variants individually as well as give you the ability to modify more advanced level spells.

While the story is very linear and told in traditional level structure, the combat itself does provide enjoyment and becomes the highlight of this game. Using some incredibly powerful spell variants can lead to a tremendous amount of entertainment. For instance, my character will summon undead spirits to fight for me based off of tagging enemies with my necromancer spell while killing them, giving me their spirit in warrior form. Whenever enemies appear, they then conjure themselves up and start attacking while I rain down fire from above. You won't run into many different types of enemies in this game but they make up for this in the sheer numbers you face at one time. While the combat does give some enjoyment, there's more than this to keep you hooked.

The levels of this game provide you with some stunning graphics and backdrops now and then. Even though the caves, crypts, and dungeons are as dark as night, this helps embellish whatever flame or fire source you see, making all of this beauty a constant; that is until the screen tears. Yes, while you're standing in awe of your surrounding environment, your screen apparently can't handle the awesomeness and thus starts to tear consistently.

Now in the heat of the battle you don't notice it as much, but when just exploring is a different story (and given that it's a majority of the game, it's a huge issue). The voice acting however is what I would consider a wealth of talent but horrendous execution. Clancy Brown, Troy Baker, Jennifer Hale, Gina Torres, and more, blanket the voices of the characters, however the script itself and the execution will leave you shaking your head in confusion.

Overall Lichdom: Battlemage has a ton of points going for and against it, but the bad are somewhat concerning. Horrible play control, constant screen tearing, a mediocre story, and a bad script are all noteable problems. As well, at the time of this writing there apparently are no achievements to get as the game cannot connect online. Your game needs to connect to the servers online in order to get the achievement data and when you fire this game up, it will not sync your data thus forcing you offline and no achievements.

There was supposed to be a day one patch but unless it was included in the download I have yet to receive it, and if it did get included I would be interested to see what, if anything, was fixed because there is still a ton of work that needs to be done. This is such a setback given the fact that this is a direct port of a PC game that they are charging you $50 for. Until the improvements are made that fix all notable issues, it's best to stay clear and save your $50 for the time being.

Suggestions: In the name of everything that is holy, please find a way to allow your audience to adjust the brightness. Also fix the problems stated above and you're on your way to a great game.

Overall Score: 6.4 / 10 101 Ways to Die

Since we've relaunched Xbox Addict, I have been reviewing some titles that favor strategy and thought rather than muscle reflex and headshots. However, I haven't come across any that I enjoyed to the point that it took me away from the shooters and other titles currently in my queue.

My most recent review duties, that you'll read here, had me playing 101 Ways To Die, and to be honest I actually quite enjoyed this one. For $12.99, developers Four Door Lemon/On The Metal games have put together a title that you'll find will bring hours of enjoyment, that is once when you get past some of the minor irritants of this game.

The story begins as mad scientist Professor Splattunfunder confines himself to his dungeon laboratory to begin his tireless work on completing his compendium of "101 Ways To Die". Literally, less than half a second later we see that it's finished (guess it doesn't take him long being a mad scientist, oh that and the montage that follows).

To celebrate this success, one of his splats (think stupid undead zombie minion) brings a bomb to the Professor, and you can probably guess what happens next. During the explosion the compendium is destroyed and Professor Splattunfunder must expedite its completion once again, but this time he calls in an assistant: you. It is up to you to help the good-evil Professor to rediscover all 101 Ways To Die so that the compendium can be complete. Pretty simple story.

So we've established that the story leaves little enjoyment; however, what we do discover is that this game is setup to help you create the most lethal Rube Goldberg machine you'll ever comes across. To do this you will be given a series of traps, which range from explosives, slippery goo, spring boards, and so much more. Naturally, as you progress you will get more traps but the levels themselves will progress in difficulty too. This is where my biggest gripe of this game resides.

There are different objectives that you will strive to reach such as 'Graduate Objectives', which consists of goals such as only one splat may escape, to 'Master Objectives', which consists of you killing two splats with one boulder. Clearing the objectives will net you stars which accumulate and unlock other areas of destruction to play with. Of course it is fun to watch the bloody dismemberment; however, you will find that as you go through the levels, the trick isn't just correct placement, but correct timing as well.

Should your timing be off even for just a slight moment, it can easily cost you a perfect score. So while the game is cerebral in its core, having to replay missions because you forgot to detonate a cannon at the right time, the exact angle, or at the proper target, can become frustrating at times. This is compounded by the fact that the splats move VERY slowly. You can hold the X button down to speed up time, but even then it's incredibly slow. I understand that this is to help you with proper timing, but it causes a disruption in the harmonic balance between gameplay and fun.

The control scheme is also questionable. First off, you have two different sets of views, an x-ray mode that lets you see your traps, and the normal view which is, well, normal. In the x-ray mode you can place your traps and tools of destruction while aiming them to the best of your ability. The aiming controls are not very precise and after trying to figure out the proper path to a gory death, trying to time your executions can be incredibly frustrating.

Thankfully the game has a camera system that can be utilized, though it can feel completely useless. No I'm not joking. I found that you can zoom in and out for whatever reason, but with seemingly no real purpose. To put things in perspective, when you have the camera zoomed all the way out, your splats look almost microscopic in size, if you zoom-in to the normal view, the screen zooms so far in you lose a lot of your surroundings. When you go all the way in with your zoom, you seemingly see a close-up of the splat and literally lose whatever limited vision you have left. If felt like there was no "happy medium" here.

After going through this game I have to say that I'm glad that the camera is so limited though. There is some great, sadistic humor to be had when you're exploding, impaling, and launching splats to their death. For $12.99 it's makes for an fairly entertaining game, even with the few issues I have noted. While it may be limited in scope, let your imagination run wild and your darker side have a little fun as you help complete the compendium of 101 Ways To Die.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 McDROID

Tis' the time for big blockbuster games to become far and few between and the mundane to take over the world, for now. I am a big fan of tower defense games as I find the cerebral planning and strategy a fun and addictive break from headshots, kill streaks, and more. McDroid from Elefantopia sets out to be a tower defense game unlike anything you've ever seen before. So do they manage to pull this off?

Unfortunately, not this time, but let me explain. When you're talking tower defense games you're not really talking about a story of any real depth or meaning as it takes a back seat to the strategy. The story for this game is generic and simple as you find your ship returning to your home which is called Planet M. Through in-game dialogue, which I found somewhat meaningless and annoying, you find out that Planet M is sick because it has been poisoned by the Somanto Corp. So naturally the game is about you healing a planet and making everything good again. That's it. No really, that's a summation of the entire game. The best way I can describe it is that you are playing essentially a tower defense captain planet versus global warming/mutant hybrid game.

First off McDroid (the character not the game) is a multi-tasking machine. This little WALL-E on steroids seems to be this entire planet's only hope. Through levels you will have to gain strawberries, which become your in game currency, to buy your towers once you've unlocked them. Your towers are unlocked by collecting diamonds and spending them on blueprints. As you progress, you will unlock items such as other droids, rocket launchers, and even magical trees which act as support for your turrets.

In order to collect these items, McDroid must destroy enemies which can drop seeds and diamonds. Once you have a seed, McDroid can plant it and after a set amount of time he will have strawberries to harvest. Once he has collected so many of these items, McDroid must head back to your ship to store them. An innovative take on resource management, but the execution is horrible. Let me tell you why.

The thing about a good tower defense game is your ability to adapt on the fly, and while McDroid does allow you to do this, the constant returning to the ship to drop off your grocery bag full of strawberries and diamonds takes you completely out of the fight. This abrupt dismissal of action really becomes frustrating as you progress and find out that McDroid has to do a tremendous amount of different tasks. It almost becomes more of a balancing game of responsibility than a tower defense game.

That's not to say though that you can obtain some amazingly fun towers to play with, the problem though is that you're required to actually play through this game, a lot, if you wish to obtain all these toys. That's an experience that I'll gladly pass on. This feeling is compounded more thanks to some of the achievements which involve McDroid's Nightmare mode, which by the sounds of it, means pray to whatever deity you believe in because this game just got a whole lot worse.

McDroid (now the game, not the character) is a generally pretty cel-shaded game that is bright and vibrant with graphics are generally appealing to the eye, though not jaw dropping. The music though is a different story. I actually found more enjoyment playing this game with the sound off than with it on. I can honestly say that since I really found the story to weak, there was no reason for me to subject my ears to this noise. McDroid just does his best R2-D2 impressions with a bunch of bleeps and bloops while your shuttle craft chimes in with what he would consider a pithy comeback. All of this leads to a very lack luster experience and that's what got me thinking.

This game originally released in 2012 and the reviews were fairly solid; however, upon a transition to a gaming console in 2016, it seems that the shift did not go so well for this little droid. I do have to say that McDroid does try to give those die hard tower defense fans something to smile about, and for only $7.99 there is a bit of reason to grin...it's cheap.

A the end of the day if you don't go into this thinking you're getting some phenom of a game, you may not mind McDroid at all; however, I can honestly say that there are better alternatives. Consider some of the tower defense games that are backwards compatible from the Xbox 360 store instead. For an extra $2 you can get Defense Grid which is a far superior game. At $7.99 plus tax, you get what you pay for.

Overall Score: 5.7 / 10 Shantae and the Pirate's Curse

With a tidal wave of indie games flocking to the Xbox Games Marketplace, it really takes a lot to stand out. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse (SPC) is a side scrolling platformer, ala Metroid and Castlevania, and is based on a theory: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Having already released years ago on other platforms, does the Xbox One version warrant the $19.99 price tag? Or is WayForward Technologies looking for a quick cash-in?

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse is actually the 3rd story in a 4 story saga. The first two games are not available on the Xbox One, and the 4th story is nowhere to be found either. So essentially for $19.99 you get 1 story out of 4, and early on, you will find that the story not only makes very little to no sense, but the whole importance of the narrative is lost completely from the beginning.

The series involves you playing as Shantae, who is a guardian genie of Scuttle Town. Prior to this game you find yourself up against a pirate named Risky Boots, who in this game is now your partner, how that happens I don't know. Ok, so now fast forward to this game.

This entry involves Shantae and Risky Boots teaming up together to fight against the Pirate Master. This villain is the embodiment of all that is evil and must be eliminated to secure the safety of the village. However, this time Shantae has lost her genie powers (apparently she lost them in the previous games). $19.99 for a wafer thin fraction of a story? Why couldn't this be a 3 game bundle for that price? As we progress I think you'll see why.

Laid out across several levels, Pirate's Curse, is a side scrolling platformer that actually delivers in many ways. The nostalgia factor of the game's graphics harkens back to the days where we would spend hours trying to time our jumps, dodge incoming danger, and destroy every breakable item you can find. This sentimentality continues through to the music as the synth heavy rifts repeat over and over until you feel like the music will actually haunt your dreams. I have to say this is nice and the sectional map layouts that we are accustomed to for all the levels is a welcomed division instead of one gigantic map.

The gameplay is solid and that's a great thing considering it's the soul of the game itself. Having a responsive control scheme with simplistic commands bodes well, as sometimes you will find yourself caught in hectic, timed jumps that could easily lead you to your death, of which is an issue I had with this game. It seems like it takes forever for you to find some form of save point and should you get 99% of the way through the level but die at the very end right before the save point, you'll be sent all the way back to the beginning. While it's very frustrating, the satisfaction of reaching a save point is underestimated greatly.

Along the way you will utilize the same basic principles where you finish one level, go to another level, fight your way to the boss, eliminate said boss, gain pirate gear to give you new abilities to reach previously inaccessible areas if you back track, and repeat the process over and over again. While this can get repetitive quickly, the game's gameplay mechanics offer both frustration and satisfaction around every turn, it does offer some form of balance. It's this balance that keeps this side scrolling platformer enjoyable. While anyone can see a tip of the cap to other iconic side scrolling platformers, Shantae and the Pirate's Curse can easily stand on its own.

After all this I can easily say that the list of "pros" far outweigh the "cons" in terms of quality. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse is a wonderfully challenging nostalgia trip down memory lane, but again $19.99 for a game that came out in 2014 on a handheld platform, seems to be one aspect that I can't overlook.

Add to that fact that you only get 1/4 of the entire game series which is something that feels like a kick in the gut. The main reason for this is because after playing this game, you will want to play the others due to the quality, and unfortunately that will require you to invest more money outside of just the game so you can experience it all. And my apologies but this game series isn't a "system seller" by any means.

Then when you take into account the troubled past regarding the problematic development and lack of release of the 4th game in the series, I guess we should consider our Xbox's lucky that we even got one of the games to play. I simply don't feel it is worth the $19.99 price point. I get the impression that this is WayForward Technologies' form of trying to gain some form of revenue to finish a project that they already raised almost a million dollars for through PayPal donations and Kickstarter. My score for this game is high in terms of gameplay experience, and not the cost, so on that note I recommend that you until this goes on sale to buy it, but once you buy it, you'll sure be glad you did.

Suggestions: Please release the first two games in the series on the Xbox platform as well!

Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 Spareware

When it comes to top down twin stick shooters, there have only been a few games that really stand out that have ever released on an Xbox platform. In an effort to add to this list, Spareware, a game developed by Rusto, has been added to the Xbox Live Store. It is relatively cheap ($9.99), and amidst all the actual political turmoil in our lives today, this game could easily be considered some form of political campaign material. Think that is crazy? Well, let me start things right off with a direct quote or two from the description of the game:

"Fight the deluded human security forces to reach the Core, where you and HelOS can save the citizens from the self-destructive and manipulative power of Vote."

Wait, it gets better:

"Get stronger with every battle and get access to a variety of exceptional weapons and abilities to help the revolution."

So, I interpret the focus of Spareware's gameplay is to create a political revolution to protect citizens from the manipulative power of "Vote". That honestly sounds like a certain political campaign going on right now in the United States. Ahem, so now that this foundation has been established, let’s move on (get it?).

Developer Rusto has attempted to make Spareware fun and enjoyable, but unfortunately it doesn't quite hit the mark. For starters, you only have local multiplayer (1-4 players), so apparently all your friends on Xbox Live, you know the service you use to download this game and more, mean nothing. Don't get me wrong, I totally get the idea of couch co-op/multiplayer play, but this game just screams online multiplayer. I can let things slide without online multiplayer aspects if you create a tremendous gameplay experience, and there have been plenty of previous Xbox 360 Arcade titles, and current ID@Xbox titles too, that have done just that, but this isn't one of them.

You'll rapidly find that your primary focus in Spareware becomes upgrading your robot mech. Specifically, you'll combine such things as power, speed, and armor, most of which are unlocked through gaining achievements (something I'll get into later) which will grant you bonuses to use on the playing field.

Depending on what your mission objectives are, you are required to choose your weapons and items wisely because you have a limited number of fuel cells to spend, and once they're gone your game is over and you have to start again. In a weird twist of fate, starting over is one of this games few shining points, as when you restart a level it is different then what you just played, so you will always have a fresh experience.

So now that we have had our one bright and shining moment, let's talk about the controls. While Rusto had a wealth of quality content available for research, apparently it seems that none of it mattered. You utilize the right stick to aim and you use the left and right triggers to fire and reload. Perks and other explosive fun can be assigned to the various buttons such as Y, B, or X, but that felt odd to me for as this game is a twin stick shooter. It is almost like the game was having an identity crisis as it didn't feel like a true twin stick shooter.

When I play a game I'll admit it, I try to gain every achievement possible. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail, but every time I try. However, outside of having values of 8, 16, 32 and more, there are achievements that you won't be able to get in Spareware unless you have three more people to play with. So, unless you have three friends over one night to sit down and play through this game with, I won't be getting all the achievements. For example, one such achievement requires that no one ever gets hit (including by each other as friendly fire is ALWAYS ON and there is no option to turn it off). Can they make it any more difficult for us achievement hunters? Why would it be so hard to do regular 5 or 10 point achievements and then some? Oh wait, I forgot Spareware is about a revolution. Gotcha.

Visually, this game really tries to push the whole cel-shaded futuristic look, but it becomes extremely repetitive. You could play this game for hours and see similar environments over and over again. Since the graphics are highly repetitive, why not focus on the music then? Oh wait, they didn't, as it too is repetitive. Yet another stellar example of a good reason to have a mute button. Normally I enjoy listening to a developer’s soundtrack as they realize it’s a way of positively connecting to their audience, but not here.

I know this review is harsh, and what is said isn't flattering at all, but I found that this game did so much wrong. For $9.99 there are going to be other ID@Xbox titles worth buying. I really wanted this game to be big given the premise it offered, but unfortunately there isn't much to this game in terms of content that’s enjoyable. I had high hopes for Spareware and regretfully I was let down and disappointed.

Suggestions: If you're going to make a political game, then go for it, but don't disrespect your audience's intelligence please. A title such as Bernie Sanders' Robot Revolution makes more sense than "Spareware". Oh and in the future, would you please refine and implement some of the qualities of the successful twin stick shooters?

Overall Score: 3.8 / 10 Tom Clancy's The Division

Ubisoft has always pushed the envelope when it comes to introducing the world to new titles. From Assassin's Creed to Watch Dogs they have prided themselves on creating its own stable of incredible IP's. When creating a new IP there is an amazing amount of risk taken by a developer and publisher. There is no data to base judgement calls on and everything is pushed to the breaking point. Many millions of dollars are usually on the line. Ubisoft has rolled the dice in 2016 as their their next venture into innovation has been released: Tom Clancy's The Division. Slated as a game that brings not only 3rd person shooting and gameplay mechanics, it also has an RPG experience that, like a drug, will leave you hooked.

From the initial beginning the game will seem a bit watered down in terms of content and customization. You can also check out the rewards available on Ubisoft's Uplay store as well as establish your character's ID and more. When you're done, you follow a similar launch of other games by being tossed into the fray and forcing you to fight your way through the beginning of the story. This is where you will find a basic, and I do mean basic, tutorial in terms of how to get into cover, the basics of your gear and weapon stats, and so on. The story itself is not as dynamic and very obtuse when it comes to anything worthwhile to care about. This is the first mark against The Division. If you want to create a shooter RPG, then you need to create a story that can last the duration of what we could consider an RPG story. There have been other games released under much more hype that delivered much less story and are now mocked as a wasteland of failed potential. The Division comes very close to this.

The general plot, without going into too many details, is that there is an flu-like epidemic in New York City and when the National Guard became overwhelmed The Division, a group of specialized agents, are activated. They are a select few handpicked to be the last line of defense. The first wave was sent in; however they have gone dark and now you're part of the second wave, trying to make sense of everything. Your mission: Eliminate the gangs that have taken foothold in the city, figure out the who, what, and why of the viral outbreak, and try to find an answer to what happened to the first wave. To do this you need to reestablish a base of operations and take back New York City. Are you ready?

While a tad bit comical and simplistic when broken down, you should find that when you go through the various side missions and search for collectibles, you really get to experience the pandemic that has hit New York from various points of view. This is where the real meat of the story resides. You'll experience everything from a man with asthma mistakenly being judged as a carrier of the virus being burned alive to a woman breaking down to her mother on the phone as she comes out to her and tells her that she's gay. The range of experiences far exceeds the value of the actual story. While disappointing that the main quest/story is so lacking in quality, the fact that The Division creates tons of these experiences adds a tremendous value. A value that will leave you scouring every inch of the city, and what a city it is.

Broken up into multiple sections with varying level difficulty, New York unfolds itself into a very large spectacle. Starting out, you will notice how the game encourages you to explore and rewards you for doing so. Venturing down alleyways, into police stations, drug stores, electronic vendors, parking garages and more all yield the real wealth of The Division. I will say though that there are times when going after a collectible and you'll find that you have to backtrack about 3 blocks, cross over, come back down the street, go into a side alley, hop up on top of a semi-truck, then hop up to a rooftop lounge, then head across the rooftop back to the original building where the collectible is. You'll do so much walking and running you'll hear tour guide voices saying "and if you look on your left you'll see Madison Square Garden, we're walking, we're walking..." This traversing will not only eat up hours of your life, and feel monotonous at times, but it can give you a tremendous experience that you won't forget.

As noted, the various sections of New York are broken down into experience levels. While the cap is at 30, each section of the map has its own range of difficulty so make sure you plan accordingly. Pay attention though as the map showcases a bright red section in the middle called the Dark Zone. This is The Division’s PvP area and the source of not only your greatest challenges but greatest loot. In the Dark Zone it is literally you versus everyone, so it is very wise to wait and team up before going in. You'll thank me for that last bit when you arrive. When you play in the Dark Zone you'll notice that there is an entirely separate level system in place as is the Dark Zone's financial system. Killing enemy NPC's in this area will earn you items such as cash, loot, and Dark Zone XP, all which you will use to obviously level your character up and buy some amazing gear, but here's the catch, other human Division players will also be hunting enemy NPC's as well as other Division players. Kill another player, and that’s when the Dark Zone transforms instantly. Welcome to the Rogue game.

Killing another Division player will net you a much more substantial reward, but it also puts a target on your back that other players can locate on their map and hunt you down. So congratulations, your greed has now caused the entire populace of the Dark Zone to be notified of a massive reward for your elimination. Killing players that have gone Rogue not only means you halted someone's killing, but in doing so you become Rogue yourself. And so the madness continues.

The loot that you obtain in the Dark Zone has to be extracted since it's in a contaminated area of New York, and this requires you to activate a signal to trigger a countdown to a chopper that flies in allowing you to place your Dark Zone acquired gear and it gets whisked away to be decontaminated for use. I tip my cap to you Ubisoft, the transition from both PvE to PvP is wonderful; however, there are a few issues I have to address.

First, being that the game is a 3rd person shooter, you automatically put yourself into a game category that is going up against other 3rd person shooters. The controls are similar where you press the A button to go into cover, and press the B button to vault over an object or climb, etc. With this in mind, the control scheme should work flawlessly, but sadly it doesn't. You'll get stuck on the wrong wall when you don't expect it and you'll find that you'll sometimes jump over barriers or cover when you don't want too. Sometimes the control becomes so frantic in the middle of the gunfights that you don't have time to notice that some of the enemies are now flanking you. Yes, that’s right folks, we do have enemy NPC's that actually respond to your character. Got an M60? Lay down over 200 rounds and you'll see the character hide behind cover and the word "suppressed" will appear over his head, but be careful because the enemies travel in groups so while one may be suppressed, the other 2-4 will start positioning themselves in a flanking position to attack you. Brilliant job Ubisoft.

With the mechanics sadly feeling a bit unpolished, The Division tries to bounce back with its RPG elements. Think of your character broken down into three simple self-explaining main categories: Damage, Health, and Tech. Throughout your game you will come across chests that are placed throughout New York, as well as rewards from missions, that contain weapons and gear. The gear has an overall armor rating, and then will either raise, lower, or maintain one of your 3 main categories. It's through your gear that you balance your character and find a play style that works for you. For instance, if you like to walk down the street towards a group of enemies and unload clip after clip of an M16 into them, then you better stack your character with high health gear.

Aside from this, The Division also tacks on varying RPG elements with your weapons allowing you to use modifications and customizations. You can see how various weapons work out, find those that you love to use, and then modify them to the extreme. With aspects such as increased XP per kill, or increased headshot damage, The Division does a tremendous job giving you an enormous amount of customization. It's also through the quality of this RPG system that The Division can easily become a mammoth loot grind that will bring many people joy with every moment, while others may not like this aspect. You also have the ability to use your own independent crafting table in your base of operations, and it's here that you can use stuff you break down for resources to build your own weapons, gear, mods, and everything.

In terms of the visuals, I have to say that the game does seem a little last generation in terms of graphics. The weapons seem to almost be ported over from the Ghost Recon games, and sadly the environment doesn't seem as developed as I had hoped for. There are many, and I do mean many, areas such as apartment buildings that have almost identical layouts so there isn't really any variation to a lot of the city. Yes, there are areas that are unique, but those are few and far between the mediocrity of the majority. The most unique spot of the entire map has to be your base of operations. It is here that the you will have the chance to establish and upgrade three different wings (medical, technical, security), and each of them provide you not only new abilities to use in the field, but also perks that will become a tremendous benefit. Though to upgrade these wings, you need their corresponding currency, and you gain this through their corresponding side missions.

If the layouts seem repetitive, the side missions will clearly add to that disappointment in terms of your actual actions. It seems as though there are numerous side missions to complete; however, when you break it down, there isn't that much difference in them. For example, there are some tech side missions that have you carrying supplies that apparently JTF can't find, but yet you can. Very repetitive, and then you'll go to another section of the city, find a tech side mission and guess what, you're finding more supplies. It's this repetition that leads you to feel that the main focus was creating a deep RPG experience, not the story, not the graphics, and certainly not the side mission layouts.

Without a doubt The Division is already a big contender for game of the year for many, and the accolades it's achieved are well deserved. Yes, there are faults with it; however, when stacked against the amount of quality content, the question isn't will The Division drain hours of your life away, but how many? The Division has an addictiveness that once you start playing you will find it very hard to stop, and that's something I feel we have been missing for so long in gaming. Sure you have your rehashed HD remakes, and franchise clone copies, but when you get an original IP that offers up depth and action, you have the makings of an iconic series. Honestly, I could go on and on about this game, but I have it on the TV that is five feet away from me and I can't wait to get back to New York City, so I'll just say this that The Division is a game that should NOT be missed. I hope to see you in the Dark Zone.

;)

Suggestions: Please look into creating varying side missions and different experiences rather than repeating similar missions with slight changes. Also please look into finding a way to naturally traverse a little faster throughout the city as walking from safe house to discover a new safe house can be very tedious and tiresome.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Cobalt

How on Earth do you follow up one of the most successful games of all time? Minecraft wasn't just a great creative game, but a doorway that allowed the minds of others to take the game and shape it as they saw fit. Innovative and amazing to the point where it creates its own culture. Now Mojang and Oxeye Game Studio bring us Cobalt. Now before we begin, I have to stress that this is nowhere near as impactful as Minecraft. That's not to say that this game is without or devoid of any value, but at $19.99 USD it becomes hard to justify that value. Let me explain why.

When you first start up Cobalt, you'll be whisked away back into the good old days of the 1980's complete with synth heavy music and imposing robots with laser beams and a tissue thin plot. Cobalt is the main character and essentially you're sent to investigate a signal that you receive from your computer friend that may have come from humans. This is apparently a big deal as there hasn't been any contact in 50 years. So off you go on a side scrolling action platformer that, even though it may have some big dents in it, can become fun, but not for $19.99.

The control setup can become very complex and even problematic. I was playing this game using an Xbox One Elite Controller and found that the trigger locks in this game prevent you from essentially doing any offense. On top of that, the game mechanics are overly sensitive and require precise timing otherwise you can kiss any chance of success goodbye. Once that was solved I rapidly found out that the game centers around one aspect of control, the roll. Yes, rolling will be something you'll be doing almost constantly. You'll roll and shoot, roll and punch, roll and jump, and roll and roll some more. The reason you're going to be doing all this rolling is because of Cobalt's built in bullet time feature where incoming projectiles can be deflected back at your attacker if you, say it with me now: ROLL! This is your main source of avoiding certain death so get ready to do more rolling than a gymnast.

Now you may be saying to yourself "no problem, I'll just keep rolling and nothing will hurt me." You would be very wrong. Cobalt at times can be very frustrating and when you are staring at your screen filling up with enemies and one little roll isn't going to help. Thus you have your armament broken into three categories:
(X button) Melee (shovels and fists, etc.)
(Y button) Ranged (alien blasters, guns, etc.) and
(B button) Throwable (basically everything else, bird eggs, grenades, etc.).

So now you have your weapons and your roll ability, and that’s when Cobalt takes a few more dings in the armor. Case in point, you will come across certain mini games throughout your adventure such as hacking. This mini game must be completed at times to utilize computers, open doors, and more; you get the idea. This however wasn't covered in the tutorial, neither was lock picking, or safe cracking, or utilizing musical tones to properly unlock certain doors. Being tossed into the deep end was frustrating at first since getting things wrong sounded the guards with guns, though once you get the hang of it, it still was very, very annoying.

While the single player has some issues, they tend to blend more into the background of the action. Multiple modes with up to 8 other people can engage in robot warfare on various gametypes. There are a lot of variants of robot to select from, each of which bears their own positives and negatives. Even though the multiplayer does do a decent job trying to inject the fun back into the title, Cobalt sadly can't recover and it's a case of too little too late, and that saddens me.

Originally I thought that this game would not be one that I would enjoy playing. I can sit here and honestly say that I did not expect to enjoy this game going into it, but after playing it, I do. I do enjoy the game and that is why it's sad. See if the game was horrible then no big loss, just chalk another one up in the column. But Cobalt wasn't that, and instead the faults that are found bear no joy. As I ended my gameplay with Cobalt, I was left with a feeling of regret. Outside of the dialogue, there is sadly no justification I can give for spending $19.99. I would wait till it was $4.99 or on the GWG (Games with Gold) and that is disappointing because it could have been great.

Overall Score: 6.2 / 10 Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

In the video game universe there are very few games that not only transcend a generation of hardware but create a following that becomes so large it literally creates a worldwide movement. Gears of War is one of these very legends.

From its origins dating 10 years this November, Gears of War Ultimate Edition may seem like a cash grab on a current generation system, however, when you dive a little deeper under its skin, you'll find that what you actually have is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Let's get the elephant talked about right off the bat. Many other companies have gone the "HD Remake" route by performing some minor graphical overhaul and charging more than what a used copy of the original would cost. Gears of War Ultimate Edition is not that at all.

For starters instead of just touching up the graphics, what we bear witness to is the result of a new company, The Coalition, and their persistent chase for perfection. Rebuilding from the ground up, every graphical aspect that you can think of for both single player and multiplayer has been improved, but when you have your single player locked in at 30fps and multiplayer locked in at 60fps at 1080p, you'll truly see the accomplishment that was achieved. I can't begin to tell you how big my smile was when I charged around a corner and hit a Locust with my chainsaw. Not just because it looked absolutely amazing but because of the next major accomplishment: the sound.

Normally in any type of shooter, it really helps to have some form of surround sound, this time though, The Coalition have Gears of War running in 7.1. Now you have a reason to go crazy on a theater system and pick up those ungodly expensive headphones. Having listened to this on a Klipsch Home Theater System, I can almost hear the chain itself with the individual links right before it engages.

However, one thing that I do enjoy is how spatial the sound plays off its environment which also includes the sound effects. Hearing a Boomer grunt out "Boom!" and then watching an oncoming warhead explode next to me, it really becomes an intense experience, especially on insane difficulty. While all of this would normally be where a company would close up shop, slap a sales tag on it, and ship it out the door, The Coalition isn't a normal company.

In the gaming world, it's one thing to create one of the world's most iconic 3rd person shooters, however trying to improve it would be almost regarded as sacrilegious to the Gears of War community. Thankfully The Coalition got to work and delivered finely tuned gameplay mechanics that made every fan around the world take notice that Gears of War is in great hands. The way they did this was masterful because they took all the pieces of an already amazing system, then consulted many, many years of fan feedback of both good and bad, and then made each single aspect of the gameplay experience just a little bit better.

For instance: Gameplay actions such as reviving your teammates from cover and swapping weapons while roadie running are just a couple of the many gameplay tweaks and improvements found throughout every moment of this Ultimate Edition. This is also thanks to a drop in/drop out system that is as smooth as silk. Join when you want, leave when you want, and the transition is seamless and is truly an example to the other companies out there how to get things done just right.

If you haven't played Gears of War, what you need to know before jumping in is essentially that humanity is on the brink of extinction against the Locust Horde and have formed a Coalition of Ordered Governments, or COGs, to try and preserve any hope of a future. With hope hanging by a thread, protagonist Marcus Fenix is called upon to deliver what humanity desperately needs; a future. If you have previously played it, then you will enjoy the fact that the five exclusive campaign missions that were found on the PC release have also been included, so if you never got the chance to experience them previously, now is your time.

While all of this plays a major role in the development and execution of campaign mode, if we're honest with one another, multiplayer is where we find the soul of this game. The Coalition knew this, which is why they unloaded 19 maps to frag opponents to your heart's desire. But these aren't just your ported maps either. Nope, this is actually a completely rebuilt multiplayer that allows for new experiences such as their 2v2. When you couple that with the fact that the dedicated servers ensure a quality and solid match and a locked-in 60fps at 1080p, you really are in for a treat when it comes to the multiplayer experience.

So is Gears of War Ultimate Edition an HD remake? A quick cash grab of a company seeking to line their pockets with easy money from an established fan base? Not one bit. Any doubts or disbelief that The Coalition couldn't do the Gears of War IP justice were put to rest when you play the final product.

Way back when most of us were glued to the internet during the E3 of '05 and learning all we could about this upcoming game called Gears of War, what we were actually witness to was one of the greatest moments in gaming; the birth of a legend. Epic Games delivered an experience that many hail to this day as one of the greatest 3rd person shooter games of all time.

However as times change, so must the franchise, which is why Microsoft created The Coalition to make sure that Gears of War has a bright future ahead of itself. What we have seen from The Coalition is nothing short of a miracle. Now we have experienced what they can do when they set their goals on what I'm calling rebuilding a legend. I am eager to see them create one themselves.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Ori and the Blind Forest

When you hear the phrase "indie game" you are immediately filled with a sense that you are in store for another "B movie" experience. There are those times, however, that an indie game defies this classification and propels your gaming experience. Ori and the blind forest can become such a game. I say can because there are aspects that make this game great but at the same time hinder the enjoyment. When you talk about puzzle solving and platforming in the same game you already know that there is a lot to be done to make a game stand out. So will this indie game that was debuted at E3 make a valiant spectacle of gaming or will we get lost within the blind forest? Let's find out.

Ok, for starters the story in the beginning isn't very in depth. Your main character Ori is this white spirit like cat creature thing that becomes adopted for some reason by a smiling bear thingy creature. Then you're orphaned again and thrusted into your platforming / puzzle solving adventure. This all happens within the first few minutes and doesn't really help establish an emotional bond or connection. You do gain a friend / follower in this floating orb named Sein and it's this orb's job to help you navigate throughout this map and restore this tree spirit. Oddly enough it seems like parts of it were ripped straight from Disney movies, and while that may not be bad; if the execution falters, then you lose a tremendous amount of untapped potential. I personally think there needed to be more inclusion and depth in the beginning of the story and more dialogue but that's where one of Ori's strengths reside; The ability to help the story through graphics and sound.

Ori does have a tremendous amount of beautiful graphics that almost remind me of a watercolor masterpiece come to life. Many areas of the map have their own characteristics that lend to one enjoyable visual moment after the next. Stunning sapphire like blues and emerald like greens and volcano reds blanket the individual areas which allow you to get an independent perspective of each new environment. This is apparent right from the beginning and never falters for a moment. While some are mesmerized by the beauty of the graphics, it's nearly impossible to miss the emotion and content relayed by the music of Ori. From start to finish this game has one goal in mind when it comes to its score and that is provide gamers with emotional content that not only were they not expecting, but become thankful for. The developers hit their marks on every note. However we all know that pretty graphics and moving soundscapes won't make a game great, as that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the gameplay.

Numerous games have tried platforming and puzzle solving and very few have succeeded. The key is to make the game's mechanics smooth and easy to use and Ori has done just that and then some. Utilizing a crafty upgrade system you are able to do more than wall jumps and triple jumps, but you are able to upgrade multiple facets of your gameplay to enhance your experience, and while some would garner that this gets in the way of pure platforming, I say that it helps breathe new life into a genre that has seen decades of failures and very few success stories. Given a pre-made map, it's your job to uncover all the areas and discover all the secrets but you will find yourself doing a lot of backtracking once you gain new abilities in order to achieve that goal. There are times when the control scheme does get in the way and you will find yourself having to retry numerous times but overall those moments are few and far between.

Overall Ori and the Blind Forest provides some amazing experiences and is easily worth the price, however if we are honest there are some bugs that prevented this enjoyment. For starters when the game finished installing and I selected the game, it would load up then immediately crash to the Xbox home screen. After doing this four times in a row it brought me to the main menu, but there were no options to select. Then again after reloading it it brought me to the main menu and I had options to select. While I was overjoyed by this I selected achievements and the game froze. I thought this was just another glitch so I reloaded it and experienced the same thing. Keep in mind at this point I have yet to play one minute of this game. Finally I just said forget it and jumped into the game, then when I left the game and came back to it, it gave me this weird black screen seizure flicker experience that was less than enjoyable and thankfully one press of the A button stopped it.

Yes Ori does have some bugs and yes some of them are game breaking, but like some AAA games you can expect patches to be incoming and if you can grit through the initial bumps in the road, Ori and the blind forest will provide you an amazing gaming experience from start to finish.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Terraria

Hot on the heels of the whole brick breaking, ore mining, and enemy killing sensation, we are finally treated to a current gen version of Terraria on the Xbox One! Remember all the hours of fun blasting away and exploring on the Xbox 360 Arcade version? Well get ready for this new release on the Xbox One to start draining more hours of your life away than you knew existed! Priced at $19.99, will this give Minecraft a run for its money? Well there's a whole lot more under the hood so let’s take a look and see what we can find out!

As we start this new adventure it's fair to notice that the 16 bit spectacle returns in all its glory, but with it also comes all of the copyright infringing traits as well. Now you can build, smelt, and more to your heart's content but in the Xbox One version you will find that the world is three times bigger. Let me repeat that. Not the same, not twice as big, but three times bigger. In this case size does matter right?

This expansion of content though doesn't stop just at the size of the map. Also included in this steroid injected version of Terraria you will find over 1,000 new items. This includes things like 29 new tinker combinations, 50 new paintings, 10 new ores, four new bosses, 15 new pets, 12 new wing types and so much more. It's rare that a company releases a game again on another platform and adds so much extra content but hopefully we will see other classics of old take note and deliver the same wealth of content in a current gen delivery.

The increase in content though doesn't do much in term of increasing the playability of the game. The plot is still slower than molasses but this time the responsiveness is a bit better. The multiple control modes still exist but so do the issues that plagued it when it originally launched. You still have to traverse above and below and mine everything you see and kill enemies and bosses but the whole experience that felt slow before feels exponentially slower now thanks to the massive increase in size to the map and all the items included therein. One issue that still remains is the respawn aspect that builds with this latest release. Before it felt like a repetitive cross country trek every time you invested hours and days digging to a boss, only to have him kill you and now you have to start this grand adventure, seemingly, on the other side of the world.

Now the world is bigger and should you die, get ready to walk, and walk and walk some more. This is where you start asking yourself "why bother?". The reason this is so important is when you factor in where you actually go in Terraria. Most games have territories that you go to and from, but here in Terraria there is actually an achievement for going to Hell and back without dying. Yes, in this version of Terraria, Hell does make a triumphant return and getting there without dying is a lot harder than just digging straight down. Disregarding the amount of time it will take to just get you to Hell, the enemies along the way will unquestionably make it a difficult journey indeed.

It goes without question that the amount of new content for Terraria on the Xbox One is on a scale that we rarely see in the video game world. Priced at $19.99 there's no question that you will find your weeks pass away as you submerge yourself in the world of Terraria. Terraria may not make you say Mine who? or Craft what? However, the overwhelming amount of content provided will gladly drain countless hours out of your life, and let's face it; if a game is doing that, then that must mean it's enjoyable and that is what is needed to create a very good game. Sure the mass of nostalgia of the synth bleeps and 16 bit glory will take you down memory lane and if you played the original Terraria on the Xbox 360, then this new release on the Xbox One will definitely be considered a must have.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Pure Pool

It's a little known secret that I love billiards. What is more widely known is that I'm absolutely horrible at it. Many of times in the past my pride, manhood, whatever you want to call it, was decimated in a public venue much to the delight of my opponent. Now thanks to VooFoo and their latest ID@Xbox title Pure Pool, I can finally compete in a digital realm. They can have their pool stick and I'll have my analog sticks, what's up now? One interesting fact, and that is that not only is this the only pool game to find on the Xbox One at this time, but after the bar has been set so high, many should wonder if surpassing it is even possible. Let me tell you why this game has slated itself to be one of the crowning gems of the Xbox One lineup this year at a fraction of the price of some blockbuster titles.

For starters the price is insane. $12.99 buys you an ID@Xbox game that easily has a chance to not only turn heads, but set standards. When you first start the game off you will be taken through a very small tutorial. I have to point out that there is no top down view of the table, however, that is because in real life, you can't look directly down on the table (unless your dancing on it, but that's another story). Creating a life like experience is what VooFoo had in mind the entire time and they delivered on a near perfect experience. They allow a small amount of guide as a form of assistance, but the gameplay mechanics also allow you to get up and walk around and view the table from multiple angles, position your cue stick properly for the right spin and even adjust the power by using the right analog stick.

One very innovative gameplay mechanic that VooFoo packs into Pure Pool is DNA. Think of this like your Drivatar in Forza. Yes Pure Pool will learn how you hit the ball, which type of shots you like to go for, and more. It does this so while you are offline, your virtual self can continue playing even while you're not there. Did Call of Duty provide some form of digital learning avatar like this? No. What about Halo? No. Did Destiny have it? No. How about Madden? No. What about a $12.99 ID@Xbox game about billiards? Yes. This whole gameplay experience is truly authentic and a welcomed sight on the Xbox One.

After you complete the tutorial you get to either continue in free play or proceed to one of the many options in Pure Pool. One option is Career mode and its here that you will start working your way through the billiard elite ranks from amateur to master by competing in both 8-ball and 9-ball competitions and tournaments. Each competition varies from matches to individual challenges such as pocket so many balls before times expires, or pot so many balls in a row, and more. These challenges also offer three in game challenges such as win the match, win without committing a foul, win with more than 3 opponent’s balls on the table, and then some. All of these are optional to complete but add a sense of extra challenge. Another gametype involve you taking on both live and DNA opponents in Xbox Live matches and in the beginning of every online match you have the ability to download the DNA of your opponent for play at any time. If you have a bunch of friends who like to play, Pure Pool allows you to start up your own pool league that’s complete with its own stats and the creator can even reset the stats should they desire. Other game modes include modes such as Perfect Potter where you have to keep sinking balls until you miss one shot, and afterwards you'll earn some xp and your will see where you stand on the leaderboards. This is my personal favorite as I find myself cursing because I may have a very long streak yet I'll miss one because I didn't strike it with enough power.

Visually Pure Pool is an eyegasam of beauty. I'm even going out on a limb here and saying that the graphics of Pure Pool remind me of the quality of Forza, which to sum it up in one word would be, heavenly. Not only are the balls and tables customizable and incredibly close to life like, but the environment as well makes you feel like you're far away from a smoke filled, dingy pool hall and instead in Monte Carlo or some other exotic location in a high end pool hall where you can see people dropping tens of thousands of dollars per ball. This is most noticeable at the end of every match as the camera goes into a cinematic mode for the final hit (this only happens though if the shot is going to be made, if not, then you won't see this view). This adds such a huge touch of class that it almost takes you back as it's rare to find something like this in today's gaming. To coincide with the quality of the graphics, VooFoo has put in the extra effort to enrich the atmosphere with an ambiance of some of the smoothest jazz music you will hear in a video game. With a track list that pops across the top of the screen with each new track, you will also hear the crowd clap, commotion of chatter, and more as you take to the felt and chalk up.

ID@Xbox was promoted to deliver independent gaming to the Xbox Live community and VooFoo has delivered not only one of the best ID@Xbox experiences you will find on the Xbox One, but one of the best games of 2014 on the Xbox One. I know that's a big statement to make, however, once you download it you will be hooked. In fact I have it playing right now in the background as I'm writing this because I'm itching to get back to some amazing billiard action. $12.99 to purchase one of the best games out there for the Xbox One? There should be no question that this HAS to be in your library. Just stop reading and go download this now. You can thank me later.


Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Grand Theft Auto V

The year is 2014 and as I'm writing this the Xbox One is officially one year old. It's been a trying year for the console. From a rocky beginning to a tumultuous series of problems from both the game and console side of the coin, there has been one truth that is as constant as the North Star. Grand Theft Auto V is back on Xbox One and could easily take the title of best Xbox One game of the year, and ironically this game set benchmarks on the last generation console as well. How could a game that has already been released come onto the next gen consoles and dominate? It's because Rockstar Games has devoted an unholy amount of effort in adding tons of new innovations to show the competition that having broken, bugged, and what some would call incomplete games, shows the gaming world just what kind of product you can produce. You want remastered done right? Look here. You want tons of new innovations while enhancing the already amazing product? Look here. You want a stable and working quality multiplayer experience? Also look here. Welcome to the new Los Santos and the true Grand Theft Auto V experience.

At first, when I heard that Grand Theft Auto V (GTAV) was coming to the Xbox One I was undoubtedly hesitant. I didn't want to see this iconic game suffer the same fate as other "remastered" or "hyped AAA" titles. As the release date drew closer the advertisements picked up and I could start to see innovations that really showed that Rockstar wanted to bring this game back but do it in such a grand way that a last generation title (with properly executed innovations) can destroy the competition and say **** you. One of the things that you rarely want to mess around with is a quality control scheme that even though originally thought a bit complex, still delivered a solid feel. This is where GTAV's biggest innovation and that is the introduction of First Person Mode. This new point of view will put you through the eyes of your characters to witness Los Santos like never before. I couldn't believe the quality work they did incorporating this and it's all thanks to customization. Let me explain.

While yes you can go through the entire game in first person, you can tailor the experience to match how you want to play. For instance let's say you want to select this mode, go into your Settings and then Display. Next go to Allow Independent Camera Modes and choose on. What this will do is automatically put you in first person view while you are moving on foot however, as soon as you decide to go mobile in a vehicle, the camera will switch back out to third person automatically. It goes without saying that Rockstar goes the extra mile with the new customization control options that make such a tremendous difference by perfecting slight touches. Options such as turning off Head Bobbing will deactivate the screen shifting up and down while you run/job in first person view. Another option is called First Person Third Person Cover if you turn that on, whenever your character moves into cover while in first person view, the camera will automatically switch to third person view to give you a greater sense of your surroundings. And as they say in those cheap, late night infomercials, "but wait there's more!" Rockstar thought that if they were going to put First Person mode in GTAV then they were sure going to do it right by adding new first person animations with over 3000 of those being just for the weapons alone. This is how companies moving forward need to take note on how to do quality innovative additions that sets them apart from the competition and puts them on the throne of the gaming public.

Originally I was highly impressed at the city of Los Santos and its surrounding areas and I felt that the qualities of the overall graphics were stunning, but now things are on a whole new level. The city feels alive with more people and traffic. The woods feel denser, the grasslands feel thicker, the entire atmosphere from land to even animals has been given a shot of steroids and jacked up far past ten to give you a truly immersive experience that not only shines in single player, but carries over into online as well but I'll get to that here in a minute.

Another tremendous improvement is the increased drawing distances. What this measures is how far off can you see in the distance and now if you're on top of a mountain, the views are simply breathtaking. This is also thanks to the improved weather and water/liquid dynamics that permeate throughout the entire game. Even driving/flying vehicles bring an option for a first person view where you can see the controls and cockpit that provide detailed insides with actual working gauges and instruments. Its small details like this that Rockstar may have thought "this may not be the major improvement that sets this game apart, but **** it, we're going to do the best job we can on this", and it shows.

Speaking of vehicles, one of the very strengths of GTAV has always been the soundtrack. When this game launched there was no question that a large amount of effort went into creating one of the best musical experiences for a game, ever. Now though, if reproducing that wasn't exciting enough, you have over 150 more tunes to select from. Realizing that in vehicles there needs to be more controls, Rockstar has added little touches such as watching your character bob up and down to the beats or new drive by control mechanics that show just how much Rockstar cares for the gamers of the world. All these new sounds culminate into a sonic masterpiece when you take into account the dynamic environmental soundscapes from a bustling downtown city, to a dense wood, or on a boat out in the water. Every single moment will not only be a beauty to behold but will entice every auditory nerve you have, every minute you play. Not just in single player, but in GTAV's multiplayer as well.

GTAV boasted a not only a tremendous single player but a very entertaining multiplayer mode. It didn't start out this way though. Originally there were problems and errors at every turn, but Rockstar went back to work, hit the ground running, and eventually ironed out a great multiplayer. Not only that but they took care of the gaming community that they thought they enraged by giving away tons of in-game items that benefited every player. Now though Rockstar games have learned (hopefully) from their mistakes and have taken their multiplayer to a whole new level.

Now you can take to the streets of Los Santos with 30 player lobbies and utilize over 150 new props with the creator tools available which means that Los Santos as officially become your new playground for mayhem. When I said that Rockstar takes care of the gamming community that also applies with this latest release. Realizing that gamers have already sunk hundreds of hours into multiplayer, Rockstar wanted to grant gamers the ability to transfer their character over so they can pick up right where they left off. This also comes with a few gifts from Rockstar as well however; it's a onetime option though, so unlike marriage you can't go back once you've made the commitment.

Look at the games that have come out since August and you'll be hard pressed to find a current generation title that isn't plagued by short campaigns, graphic bugs and glitches, broken multiplayer, and lack of original content. Not here though. Rockstar, once again, steps to the plate to show all the other companies where the bar will be placed for gaming dominance. With a devotion to bringing the best experiences in gaming, Grand Theft Auto V is hands down the game to beat this year. Unlike other games that add one or at most two innovations that slightly change how a game is played, Rockstar keeps its pimp hand strong by delivering more of everything while innovating every moment of the game. As an avid gamer I do hope that other companies take note of, not only how Rockstar got to the top, but how they remain there by bringing more wealth of content than the Federal Reserve. Welcome back to Los Santos, welcome back to one of, if not THE, best game on the Xbox One, Grand Theft Auto V.

Overall Score: 9.6 / 10 MotoGP 14

The MotoGP series has seen a major overhaul since its inception, and now MotoGP 14 plans to take the series to a level it has never been before. Harnessing the power of savage bike racing that mandates you balance control and power, this simulation racing title tries to halve the number of wheels yet still deliver an experience that will leave your palms sweaty, heart pounding, and adrenaline pumping. Sounds good so far right? Unfortunately that's where the pleasantries end. From the beginning to end this is a game that will not only frustrate you to the ends of the earth, but leave you shaking your head.

There are many reasons, but before I dive head first into that pile, I do have to say that there is a decent amount of content. Not good, but decent. You have eight single player modes to choose from along with multiplayer so in all you have a bunch of racing to do. In career you start small and then find yourself working your way through the ranks till you hit the monster GP beasts. Other modes include an instant race, grand prix, time trial and more but sadly, even though there seem to be all of these options available, you start to see where this game falters and comes up short and with that in mind, let's talk about the controls.

They are horrid. Now in a real bike, at speed, the bike actually wants to right itself upright, hence the reason why you see bikers lean so much is because they are actually finding the angle of grip, tension and speed. Think of it like trying to ice skate on a piece of dental floss and turn at high speed while you're doing it. It is paramount in any racing game, whether it's arcade or simulation, that you get the handling absolutely perfect. Granted the styles vary but the premise to deliver solid controls spans essentially every game. MotoGP 14 does offer varying physics levels and I found myself in the pro level having my back tire slide out from under me constantly. Oddly though when I went through career, the under-steer (which is predominant in the mammoth GP bikes), vanished completely, but as your bikes get bigger and better, the handling seems to drop in proportion, so by the time you've reached the top you're hoping to not enter a corner and come out like a stain on the pavement.

There are upgrades that you can make for your bike; however, as you go through the game you will see that the ability to upgrade comes only at the expense of you investing roughly three times the gameplay on the same single race, just to upgrade one section of your bike. On top of all that, the improvements don't make you feel any better or worse, so now you're left with a feeling that you wasted a bunch of time in your life instead of taking part in an exhilarating MotoGP race. It's an unfortunate disappointment but one that ultimately leaves MotoGP 14 more of a chore to play than enjoyment.

As stated earlier there is a lot of content in terms of play modes and with that a substantial amount of courses to run as well. These are all introduced to us by flashing video clips of what the culture and scene of the track area is like. The video then stems into a breakdown of the track itself with lengthy information on number of left and right hand corners, overtaking "hot spots" and so forth. After that pre loading screen you then go to another shorter loading screen and then you are place right in the middle of the action at your garage. Here you can tune your car (for whatever reason you may want to), hop in the race by putting on your helmet, and view statistics of the course you just watched for over 30 seconds and more. The course graphics don't look appealing at all and the bikes, while somewhat good looking, still combine to generate a feeling of being underwhelmed at the last generation of graphics. I can't seem to comprehend why not wait a few years in between releases just so you can put out a product that is a definitive staple in MotoGP racing? Is this what happens when there is so very little competition that you start taking advantage of the quality of your games?

The next stellar pieces of horrendous flaws have to come by way of the audio. To sum it up real quick would be to say that this game screams at you constantly. Not in the sense of a very loud, yet beautiful musical score, but in the sense of hearing nails on the chalkboard while hearing a baby scream at the top of their lungs. Should the crowd be included in the sound? Hardly at all. In fact I found myself laughing hysterically after turning the engine sounds completely off and just having the environment and everything else untouched and it literally sounded like it was on mute or some quiet nature channel. Bikes were taking off from the line, accelerating out of corners, spinning off, yet all I hear was next to nothing. When you can do that, there's a serious issue with your sound.

I can see what MotoGP 14 is trying to do. It wants more than anything to deliver you a racing experience that will make you feel like your heart will explode from your chest, your head pop from the intense amazement, and your knees weak under the after effect of the adrenaline surge. Instead you get a game that will raise your blood pressure in anger, make your head shake as to why you spent your hard earned money on this game, and make you toss or trade this game in out of sheer frustration and depression. Noble effort, but MotoGP 14 just doesn't deliver the quality racing experience you can find elsewhere.

Overall Score: 6.1 / 10 F1 2014

Delivering an arcade racing game is fairly easy compared to trying to produce a simulation, and Codemasters tries to do just that in F1 2014. With racing that involves razor sharp precision and demands a high amount of attention, to say that Codemasters has a hard time overcoming the highs and lows of F1 2013 is a tremendous understatement. This time we take note of what this new installment has to offer but most importantly we question is it really worth the purchase? Start your engines.

To begin our driving experience we have to note that this year features a diminished amount of content. Not in cars or tracks as those have increased but rather in the modes of play available. Last year the acclaimed "classic" mode really helped bring this series to a whole new level and sadly that is gone and it feels like a slight step backwards. What's there though are your career, scenario and rival modes. Career mode allows you to choose between a short season (seven races), all the way up to a full season (of 19 straight races). It's here where you will also find your seasonal challenges and evaluation test (to determine what difficulty you should be playing this game). Scenario mode allows you be placed into a certain situation from which it is up to you to snatch a victory and is quite interesting when you are given selections that no rational thinking person on earth would choose. While some are just quick and easy pick up and play modes, others require you to hone your nerves to the point where they can shatter atoms in order to have a successful race.

Earlier we mentioned that you need to have laser like focus and that is so true due to the fact that this simulator is very, very, hard. As the game begins it doesn't do much in terms of educating you in the ways of driving an F1 car. Instead Codemasters throws you blindly deep into pool and says "Now let's see how you drive." You may think that just pressing the gas and break are all you need to think about, yet there are many more environmental aspects to consider in order to win the race and the season overall. Everything from proper speeds into the apex of a corner to finding the correct line while managing your tire wear, and properly balancing your pit stops with your fuel level and race statistics are all things that you must be aware of at all times. Now this game does not provide the same quality of detail you would find in a Forza game, however, there still are some tuning options that you can use to help set the car up so you can claim that all important edge.

Even though the learning curve is incredibly steep, your eyes will enjoy tearing through various courses around the world. While not on the levels of what we can expect from Forza, the F1 cars do appear to steal the show, even though there are some texture issues that plague even the new models and the 360 feels antiquated in terms of visual appeal. However do you buy a racing game to look at the cars and drive the cars or look at the drivers and the environments? It's a shame as well because while the attention to the cars is the primary focus, the environment doesn't receive the same love and even though you may have some new courses to drive on, don't have high expectations and you won't be disappointed. I do have to say though, on a personal note, that flying through the rain while blinding the cars behind me with a huge rooster tail of water was particularly enjoyable to watch in the replay.

Of course with a new release you will find some tweaking to the gameplay mechanics and maybe a new car and course or two but what really struck my ear was how these machines sound. F1 is known globally for providing cars that when flying by seem to shatter the sound barrier at ear deafening pitches and even though there may be some unity in terms of power and design between the cars, every engine sounded unique and that's something my ears loved to hear. It really does feel like an intense simulating driving experience when you are tearing around corners while hearing the engine roar in between gear changes and your pit crew chimes in on your headset to let you know of your stats during the race along with any pertinent information on the race itself. If you are someone who has never heard the scream of an F1 engine before, then you are in for a treat. If, however, you are looking for the psychotic atmosphere of thousands of die-hard international F1 fans, then look somewhere else. If you watch F1 on TV like I do, you can’t help but to take notice of just how passionate F1 fans can be. Massive flags that represent not only automotive pride but the pride of a nation fly free as the shouts of joy mix with the tears of sadness. This sonic event isn't felt anywhere in F1 2014 to the degree that it should be and that is actually quite frustrating.

If you are in search for an arcade racing game that will allow you to bounce off of other cars as you bash your way to the finish, you won't find it here. Instead you will find an unforgiving racing simulator that takes a lot of the excess "fluff" out of racing games and instead forces you to deliver with sniper rifle accuracy. While all of this game could stand some improvement, it is a solid entry in the F1 series of games, however, when you factor in the few extra cars and tracks at your disposal this time you may actually ask yourself why would you ever want to upgrade at full retail price? You lose modes of gameplay at a sacrifice of a minimal increase in content, but yet you are asked to pay full retail price for this game. Is it worth it? I don't see how it could be, and that’s the worst part about it.

I wanted to cheer on my McLaren team as it took on the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and more, but in the end I was left with a dream that has yet to come true and a viciously brutal game designed to test your ability to drive and if, god forbid, you should make a mistake will rip your head clean from your body and laugh at you. Codemasters is on the cusp of something really incredible in the world of F1 racing, but disappointingly, F1 2014 isn't it.

Overall Score: 6.7 / 10 Assassin's Creed: Unity

Utilizing some of the world’s biggest events and most dramatic periods in human history has always provided gamers the unique ability to travel through time and cosmos to experience this for themselves. It’s this definitive staging that has been the backbone to every Assassin’s Creed game, and in Assassin’s Creed Unity the stage is set for the French Revolution. Gone are the sun filled skies in the Caribbean and the woods and fields of the American frontier. Now you will find giant churches that tower over a peasant lifestyle mix together with unrest and violent outbreaks of rioting to blanket as far as the eye can see. In Assassin’s Creed Unity, this would be something of a tremendous undertaking to do on your own, this time you have friends, hopefully. Our blades are as sharp as a feather. Our brotherhood as strong as custard. Welcome to Assassin’s Creed Unity. Vive La France should be changed to Vive La What the ****?

From birth, our main character, Arno Dorian feels like a privileged child. Raised in a noble setting with seemingly not a care in the world, Arno admires his father and while the story is another installment in the ongoing battle between the Assassins and the Templars, it is one that smacks of familiarity but albeit with many more pitfalls than you can escape from. While there is a story, the way you experience it is just a beginning tip of an iceberg that sinks a game that offered so much potential. This is the first Assassin’s Creed game that has decided to take the time tested mechanics and not so much disregard all the elements but rather alter them. Before the movement was a bit complex but fairly responsive and what we find in Assassin’s Creed Unity is a control scheme that has become very complex and less responsive than a catatonic patient. I remember trying to descend down a cathedral wall only to find myself using this new parkour climbing system to fall right past a fruit cart, down through the street, only to freefall for an ungodly long time till the game took pity on me and killed my character. It’s a massive setback right from the beginning when the essential essence of what makes an AC game great becomes something it never was because it never worked. But wait, there’s more.

Speaking of long load times, the loading times are longer than the actual French Revolution itself. This means that you will spend more time loading and preparing ACU than playing the actual game. It almost becomes painful when you also take into account that if you want to unlock every chest, you have to sign up and register on an external site AND download a companion app and go through that, oh and did I mention that there’s an achievement for unlocking every chest? There is. So here we have Ubisoft who now is forcing people to their external sites and apps in order to unlock achievements that they already paid for by buying a digital or physical copy. Seem fair? There are tons of other aspects for the life of me I need to talk about something cheerful with this game. Wait, I got it! The graphics! Wait….. No…. Sorry. There are certain aspects of this game that are quite strikingly beautiful. Really I’m talking graphics that are the Top Gun song “Take my breath away” gorgeous.

Sounds good and hopeful but then utterly gut wrenching when you notice the tremendous amount of screen tearing, lagging, stuttering, frame rate crashing that appears quite a bit through the game. I’ve found that as long as the camera isn’t moving and your character isn’t moving, you can witness some amazing graphic displays, but move the camera or the player and its game over. Going over Notre Dame was absolutely stunning. Venturing inside you could really start to grasp the beauty of the grandeur before you, then you traverse the insides and everything goes to hell.

In terms of any plot in Unity, you will find the traditional sequences to be rather mundane and not that important, however once you get to a Templar assassination at the end, those are the moments that stick out as your OMG moment, but sadly they are few and far between. In the past there has been an emotional connection between the protagonist and the gamer, but you don’t really get the same bond in Unity. I have found times where the sole reason I’m even doing anything in this game is because I’m trying to clear out my map. I’ll be honest I miss the days of old Assassin’s Creed games.

The plot found amongst those earlier entries in the series provided much better quality stories than anything you will find in ACU and the sad thing is that Unity is full retail price while the older, yet better games are now a fraction of the cost. You do the math on value for money there. I never really even bothered to care that I was in the French Revolution because the sounds that permeated my ears didn’t do much to put me in Paris at that time in history, nor did it help at all with the voice acting of Unity, and speaking of that... One strong area where this is apparent is the lack of French language in France. Listen I know the whole “Animus translation” angle of the story, but there seemed to be more authentic Italian feel to the dialects in the older games than in Unity. I don’t know if it’s out of shame or what, but last I checked the French are a proud people and have right to be. But I guess when a French company barely puts in any French language, and sticks to English without a French accent for fear of sounding foolish, you get the same attention to detail as you’d expect from all the other debacles of this game. Nothing like German language to make you feel like feudal Japan right? It makes about as much sense to me.

Enough though, of the doom and gloom, because there is one area that Unity actually shines and that would be the co-op missions. This is where you and up to three of your friends will join in a multiplayer session that varies between Paris and various dedicated missions. This is the only multiplayer you will find in Unity, but instead of just running around looking for people to murder, you join forces in an attempt to complete various missions at various difficulties. This premise does offer a lot of enjoyment and in Unity, is the single greatest mode in the game itself. Forget single player, because when you have three friends all communicating, you can really get to witness what a blanket of death really looks like. Setting off decoys to lure enemies into assassinations, tactical timing and efficiency, and lethal precision all encompass what the co-op missions are all about. Is there a downside to this? Sadly there are a few, and for starters there aren’t as many as you would hope for. Second on the list would be that not all of them are for four players. So you and one other person can technically play every co-op list, but only some will grant you the fun of four player assassinations.

While it goes without question that Ubisoft attempts to deliver a quality Assassin’s Creed experience, all the upgrade systems in the world won’t be able to upgrade the disappointment found seeping through almost every aspect of this game. It doesn’t matter what you wear, what weapon you use, how you improve your skills, because ultimately in the end you have a game that tries too hard to breathe new life into a series only to have it flat line. One little note of mention though is that Ubisoft decided to release Assassin’s Creed Rogue separate from Assassin’s Creed Unity. Unity is released on the One while Rogue is released solely on the Xbox 360. Oh and I have to mention that Rogue is supposed to happen before Unity. So just to clear this up, Ubisoft has released a game called Assassin’s Creed Rogue for the Xbox 360 ONLY which is just a single player event story that leads up to Assassin’s Creed Unity which is ONLY found on Xbox One. So essentially Ubisoft is saying if you don’t have both consoles, you’re up a creek without a paddle and won’t get the whole story. Wow, really? Such a shame.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 LocoCycle

Throughout your gaming timeline there are games that you have played that are brilliant, fantastic pieces of software put together in a way that staggers the mind, excites the soul, and ignites a passion that has you glued to the game for weeks and months on end. LocoCycle is not one of those games. Twisted Pixel Games has gone to tremendous lengths to create a title that offers much in the realm of bad humor, simplistic yet twitchy controls, repetitive gameplay, and a pointless overall feel that makes you wish you were playing something else. This whole review could end right now and you would have more content and experienced more than you would if you played LocoCycle, but alas, if you need more proof of why you should avoid this game, read on dear reader, read on.

Remember back in the Sega CD days when there were games that offered live action video, and parts of which were interactive? This is the same style, yet on a grander, yet more vomit inducing scale. Starting off you will be watching a comedic parody live action video where poor acting and poor humor intertwine as we are introduced to S.P.I.K.E. and I.R.I.S. and from the beginning you can see that S.P.I.K.E. looks like something from Mad Max, while I.R.I.S. looks like a bike rip off of the famous Knight Rider car KITT.

Towards the end of this presentation you will also see how they blatantly ripped off lines and scene development from the movie Short Circuit as I.R.I.S. is left alone for a few moments during a lightning storm where, inevitably, a bolt comes down from the clouds and strikes I.R.I.S. causing it/her to become like Johnny 5, alive. I.R.I.S. is pushed back to a garage where Pablo is tasked to repair it but during the repair I.R.I.S. comes to life and scans a magazine that Pablo was reading and decides that attending a motorcycle ride in Indiana. Upon discovering that I.R.I.S. is different, Pablo ends up getting his jeans stuck in the bike itself and as the bike takes off, so does Pablo. This is the stage for LocoCycle and even though Twisted Pixel Games may have done this deliberately, the execution leaves little to smile about, let alone laugh at.

This is thanks to the stage setup and control scheme which is so simplistic you could technically play this game with your foot and focus your attention to other things. The A button acts as your boost gauge and counter attack while the X and Y buttons act as your weak and strong melee attacks. Steering is done via the left thumbstick but it would almost be more productive to drive using The Force because it would probably be more responsive.

Slight twitches left or right will have your bike veering wildly off course which doesn't really matter since you will hit an invisible wall and bounce right back into position thus almost making the left stick obsolete. Combat is the name of the game in LocoCycle, not racing, and involves you going through short chapters where you will fight various enemies that result in you smashing the X and Y buttons over and over again with the occasional press of the A button. This is the only actions you will do outside of a few mediocre mini games that involve you fixing the bike on the fly, but ultimately in the end, you will be repeating the same actions over and over again. At the end of each stage you will be given a grade based on your previous performance and awarded points which can be used to upgrade your bike. You can upgrade various trees such as melee combat, health, and weapon systems. Some of these unlocks require you to trudge through the levels ahead before you can upgrade them though so it's safe to say that LocoCycle enjoys thrusting you through levels of torture to upgrade all elements of your bike. That's a really sick joke from Twisted Pixel.

Either intentionally or unintentionally, LocoCycle tries to deem itself worthy in the graphics department, but sadly falls short there as well. By providing last gen graphics of non AAA titles, LocoCycle makes smooth moving garbage throughout each stage flow very smoothly. Now there were some last gen games that provided breathtaking beauty and stunning imagery but LocoCycle can't seem to even compete with that. Known for not having their games taken very seriously, Twisted Pixel Games seems to follow this trend very well with LocoCycle's graphics and even their sound. Trying to compete with C-3PO, I.R.I.S. claims to translate thousands of different languages, yet thanks to the lightning strike, can't understand anything except English which bodes well for Pablo as he speaks absolutely no English period. The result of this lingual blockade is poor humor that is constant and mundane and provides you with minutes of semi entertainment until it goes into the boring and painful. I.R.I.S. does try to convey the occasional classic movie line which adds the momentary nod to better quality work than this game, but the impact is lost thanks to the poor writing and audio work.

To finalize this insult, LocoCycle is priced at $20 and is only available as an online download. Yes all this below average software can be yours for $20, but wait if you act now you can come to your senses and avoid this short, yet painful title. This was probably a very smart move because it saved on the production costs needed to bring a physical copy to reality. And they realized that they would lose their shirt if they spent that kind of money because hardly anyone would buy this game. No SmartGlass or Kinect involvement means that your torture is subjected to controller only, and that’s perfectly fine with me. I understand that humor varies by taste, however there are comedic movies from 30+ years ago that are more iconic and could be used for inspiration and provide better writing materials to at least make LocoCycle more enjoyable. Given the boring gameplay, over simplistic controls, average graphics, extremely poor writing and mediocre audio, the question isn't why wouldn't you buy it, but why, in the name of everything that is holy on this planet, would you buy it?

Overall Score: 4.0 / 10 Contrast

Emotion is a quality that can make a good game, a great game. This quality is abundant in the Xbox Live Arcade game, Contrast. Developed by Compulsion Games and priced at $14.99, Contrast puts you in the role of a character named Dawn who can manipulate between light and shadow and who is the apparent imaginary friend of a little girl named Didi. It's been said that children sometimes generate imaginary friends due to struggles within their own lives, and most of the time the focus is on the parents and the living environment they provide. This is the foundation of Contrast and really sets the stage for a dynamic performance. Does Contrast bask in the light of amazing glory, or does it seemingly vanish into nothing while deep in the shadows? Let's see what Compulsion Games put together.

As we begin our journey, you'll notice that Didi is a small girl caught in a troubled family life. Her father is not in the picture, and the mother, Kat, is trying to make the best life she can for her and her daughter by being a lounge singer. This leads Didi to a life of loneliness and so, out of this situation Dawn is made to be. Set in a sort of fantasy, noir art deco environment, the plot consistently keeps you going like Alice and the rabbit hole. Throughout the game the plot takes several twists and turns, but plays heavily on the feelings of a little girl wanting her parents to reunite and become a family once again. The story is a bit short and can be gone through from start to finish in a few hours, but it's one that shouldn't be spoiled as the adventure of Contrast is very well done and even the ending will leave you with a smile ear to ear.

You will control Dawn throughout the entire game and will use her abilities of both light and shadow to complete the puzzles that lay ahead. A major cornerstone of a puzzle solving platformer is to have puzzles that boggle the mind, yet give you satisfaction when you finally figure out how to solve them. Sure there are more complex puzzle games out there, but Contrast holds its own by mixing up both 3D and 2D puzzles with a crafty solution if you take the time to figure it out. If you're into very complex and challenging puzzles then Contrast may not be for you, but if you like innovative twists involving solving puzzles with light and shadow, then this game will keep you entertained for hours upon hours.

The whole fantasy world you venture through is done brilliantly and almost every interaction involves shadowy figures that play out the drama of Contrast. This innovative twist goes a long way because it creates so much with only a little material. Each environment has its own twists, turns, and back areas to explore for collectibles and help add a sense of depth to this almost noir dream world. You will eventually go from point A to B as you progress through the game but there is a small room of exploration, but only if you're crafty enough to figure out just how to navigate it.

Another big plus that Contrast has going for it is the soundtrack. The voice acting alone will take you back to the early decades of the 1900's but the true audio gem is the music. A very minimalistic jazz style is heard right from the beginning and even though it's a looped verse, I couldn't help but listen to it over and over again as it's an emotionally calming, little piece of music. This whole musical mood is felt in every moment of Contrast and permeates every part of its atmosphere, in fact as I'm writing this I have the soothing main menu music going in the background. Take a bow Compulsion Games; you've more than earned it.

It actually is a relief that this tone was established for Contrast because there are two faults with Contrast and they are the control sensitivity and the camera itself. Dawn's movements are so incredibly touchy that when trying to make very minute changes in direction can leave you falling off ledges and plummeting to your death. This is a big negative when you're trying to figure out and complete certain puzzles that require you to switch in between both light and shadow. There were times when my character was on a ledge and I tried to just drop off the side to pick up a collectible and ended up launching Dawn way out into the abyss.

Then the other problem area, the camera, seems to suffer from the same schizophrenic movement issue as the controls. When you're trying to get your bearings in solving puzzles, it helps to have a stable camera system and that isn't found here in Contrast. At times our character involuntary switched from shadow to light due to a glitch in the shadows and environment and this caused us to become trapped, half in and half out of a wall which required us to restart from the last save point. If you're going to create a puzzle platforming game, you absolutely have to have a responsive, yet solid control feel and a good camera to help give you a perspective of your surrounding environment and possible solutions to the upcoming puzzles. Sadly the quality of the plot, graphics, music isn't found here.

While $14.99 is on the high end of Xbox Live Arcade games, Contrast brings a lot of content in a minimal way. The story may be short but is done very well, and even though there are some issues with the controls and camera, the simplistic beauty of every other aspect of Contrast will make every moment very enjoyable. $14.99 may be a bit steep for an arcade game like this, however, at $9.99 it's a must have for anyone who enjoys puzzle platforming games that bring a fantastic story that’s blended with wonderful art and music. Thank you Compulsion Games for releasing Contrast on the Xbox Live Arcade.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Farming Simulator 2013

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to a new innovation in simulation gaming. You have your flight sims, and you have your racing sims, but now I want to welcome you to.... Farming Simulator 2013! Yes you read that right, farming has taken front stage as the new kid in the simulator world and tries to, well I don't really know actually. Giants Software has attempted to deliver one of the world’s best (and only one on consoles) farming simulations available, and one thing is for sure, according to this game, farming is insanely boring, tedious, mundane, and repetitive. My family originally grew up as farmers so we have a personal tie to all the long hours, hard work, and environmental conditions that plague every farmer on this planet. While some simulators attempt to put their own spin on how they should be presented, I do have to hand it to Giants Software because they tried their best to fully engross you into the real world of farming. This isn't your daddy's Farmville.

For starters, Farming Simulator 2013 puts you behind the wheel of some of the biggest names in the farming industry, including the iconic tractor company, Lamborghini. The controls may seem complicated at first, but the basic outline (gas on RT and brake on LT) are there. The LB will quickly become your best friend as there are many other functions that are unlocked depending on what piece of equipment you are using. Then there's the actual control where you use the RS to look around and the LS to move your tractor left or right. Instead though of just trying to balance out the throttle which is ridiculously hard to do, you can set your tractor in different cruise control modes which will have you whipping around your field at a mind boggling 9mph when you go to cruise control 1 but if you take it to 2, then you really start going wild at 10-12mph max, oh what fun.

Speaking of fun, the physics of this game are truly mind boggling. I drove a massive tractor down the street hauling a trailer full of crops when a little car pulled out in front of me and we collided. When I say collided I mean that my tractor ended up climbing up on top of the car, losing traction and getting stuck. I tried to unhitch my equipment, hoping that would allow me to break free and nothing happened. The car underneath me was perfectly fine and I apparently was unaware that what could be considered a Toyota or Honda could withstand the force of a head on collision with something over triple its weight and made of pure steel. Learn something new every day.

There are also plenty of different types of farming equipment that you have to familiarize yourself with in order to develop a fully functioning farm. Think of this game as a light version of what it would be like to farm in real life. You can't just start out planting crops, first the ground must be plowed which requires you to hook up your tractor to the plow and take to the plot of land. After the plowing you have to plant some crops which will require you to hook a seed spreader up to the tractor. First you have to drive it to the seed palates and then you have to load it up. After that, it's time to drive to the field and plant the seeds, but you're far from finished because next is irrigation.

Crops need water to grow before harvest and after watering and waiting comes the next step, harvesting. Here, your crops are now ready to be collected which mandates that you hook a harvester of sorts up to your tractor and tend to the field until your storage is full then drive somewhere to dump your load, and go back to the field and repeat until all is harvested. When you harvest some crops though, you will be left with leftover straw which you can then collect into either square or round barrels of hay which you can either sell or feed to your animals. Once this is all completed it's time to drive to market and sell your goods from your farm for cash. It's with this cash that you can enter auctions to buy more plots of land, buy new equipment and tractors, and hire help and more. After all of this, it is time to cultivate the soil. Think of this as a way to quickly get to replanting without having to plow again. This is the circle of life when it comes to Farming Simulator 2013 and boy does it sound boring.

There are other aspects as well that you had to focus on and one of them are the animals. Breeding and having a healthy livestock is essential for maintaining a high quality farm and should be considered just as important as crops. Also since Farming Simulator 2013 is an attempt to deliver real world experience, get ready to deal with the bank. Just like farmers in real life, usually a large loan is involved in order to purchase equipment, land, and everything else needed to get started, so get ready to manage your wallet while you watch your cash grow from the ground. While there is more to the game, there isn't anything though to keep you entertained. Farming Simulator 2013 should just be called Farm Work, and when you play games for entertainment they should do exactly that, entertain. I can't honestly see a farmer coming in from a 14 hour work day to go through the whole procedure in a virtual world, and I can't see someone deciding between this and Grand Theft Auto V.

There are some comical videos about this game that you can find online, but repeating these actions goes against everything the game is trying to institute with you and will ultimately leave you at a cross road and a choice. Do you go back and manage your farm like the game intended from the beginning, or do you just take the game out of your console and place it on the shelf to gather dust until you either sell it or trade it in. Both of these options though would imply that you had indeed purchased the game which is where your fault originally resides.

While Farming Simulator 2013 is about as enjoyable as watching grass grow, it does look very pretty. The farmland in both the United Kingdom and United States offer varying displays of the countryside, foliage, and more. The tractor and tool models are also done with high amount of detail, but to grasp the full experience, I would recommend driving from inside the cabins of the different tractors so you can get a feel for the different manufacturers and layouts of each piece of machinery. There really isn't anything in terms of a soundtrack for this game. You could honestly get the same sound if you drove into the country side, opened a window and shut the car off. Birds chirp off in the distance and each piece of equipment sounds different which goes a long way when you take into account all the different types of tractors and tools are available.

As a simulator, this game is very true to life in all manageable aspects; however as an entertaining piece of software, that's another story all together. Average graphics will not keep the boredom from overcoming your senses, but there is one parting piece that Farming Simulator 2013 gives us. Apparently new copies are hard to find, either due to lack of production, and that’s all I could come up with. This means that if you have a sealed copy then you could technically own one of the rarest simulation games ever made on the planet. When you look at it from that point, it helps take the edge of this failure of a game, but why you would want to purchase it in the first place remains a mystery. Next time you feel like entertaining yourself in the most boring way possible, try staring at a blank wall for hours, you'll get the same amount of enjoyment.

Overall Score: 3.0 / 10 Soul Calibur 2 HD Online

Have you ever had a game where you and your friends became so immersed that the minutes turned to hours which turned into days, then months, and even years? Transcending history, and the world, a tale of souls and swords, eternally retold. Welcome to Soul Calibur II HD Online. About a decade since its initial release, Namco has decided that a good celebration of such an iconic fighting game would be to re-release this classic with a HD graphics overhaul and include online play as well. Back when Soul Calibur II was released on the Xbox 360, there was an online war of words as each console obtained an exclusive (and different) character. The Sony platform received Heihachi Mishima from Tekken, Nintendo unlocked the iconic Link character, and The Xbox 360 got Spawn. To this day I don't know why. Link is a staple in gaming history with Nintendo, and Tekken appeared to be solidified with Sony. Dead or Alive brought out Master Chief, yet Soul Calibur II unleashed Spawn. Soul Calibur II was already a stunning game when it first came out and has a lot of things going for it right out of the gate. So does SC II fall short or is this truly one game that will transcend history and time together. Let's find out.

SC II was one of those games that caused many groups of people to gather around the console, passing the controller to whoever had to take the walk of shame. There were no fatalities, no Ultra Combos, just stunning fighting displays with varied weaponry. This time, Namco has gone to great lengths to celebrate the 10 year anniversary, but not all is as golden as it sounds. There are multiple modes to select from within the single player realm. Your time attack mode, survival, arcade, and more all make their triumphant return; however the bulk of your time will be spent in Soul Calibur II's Weapon Master mode. It is here that you will select a character to start your journey looking for the legendary weapon itself.

Along this path there is a loose fitting text story that you can read if you wish, but then you are tasked to fight in various arenas under various circumstances. For instance, on one stage you could have a strong gust of wind will keep blowing through the stage, forcing your character towards the edge, and you have to win by a ring out victory. Other examples would be your opponent has poisoned weaponry that when you get hit, will slowly start to drain away your life and make your character move more sluggishly, yet you have to win. By navigating your way through Weapon Master mode you will also unlock more content to use in SC II. Certain fights will net you new weapons for some characters, different stages, or even new characters themselves. Speaking of characters, earlier you read that there were exclusives when the game first released. That isn't quite the case this time. Spawn is back, but this time so is Heihachi Mishima from Tekken. Sorry but it looks as though Link will be staying put with Nintendo, but at least both platforms are now on a level playing field.

For the Soul Calibur fans, you will be happy to know that the control scheme for this arcade game is just as you remembered it with some minor improvements in terms of input timing; however that isn't the case for the online aspect of this game. Fighting online is something that has become essential to making a successful fighting game. Once you decide to fight online though, you fall victim to very sluggish button inputs that completely detract from the precise movements that are necessary to win. Once frustration takes over you will find yourself resorting to button mashing as you try to figure out how to properly time your attacks and adapt to balance out the lag input, but by that time round 1 has already ended and now round 2 is starting. Now you start to get a feel for how to compensate and you start to fight, however, attacking isn't the only thing lagging behind, blocking is affected as well.

There are other issues as well for online play such as no lobbies.... at all. Instead you get whisked away back to the multiplayer menu where you have to go through searching all over again, unless you host (but prepare yourself for sending out a lot of invites, over and over again). Namco didn't even include a way to rematch the player you are going against now, and to me that is just sloppy. Top quality online lobbies are the icing on the cake that makes a good fighting game, a great one, however the ability to rematch your opponent is almost essential, and to not include that is a mystery we may never solve.

While the online aspect does suffer somewhat, the entire HD overhaul of Soul Calibur II makes everything look better than ever. When it was originally released, Soul Calibur II was a beautiful game, but now Namco has put an HD touch on it and wow will you notice a difference. Each stage now looks breathtakingly good and the character models have all received visual upgrades that make them appear more realistic, natural, and in some cases very menacing. Thankfully the different stages also come with various soundtracks that accompany each fight. Known for some very dynamic music, Soul Calibur II HD Online delivers again. The voices of the characters can though wear thin over time, but having the original announcer's voice brings the audio quality right back up.

At $19.99, Soul Calibur II HD Online is priced at the top end of the Xbox Live Arcade scale, however when you factor in that this was originally a full retail title, the scope of the content included more than warrants the price. You also have to take into account that this game includes more with the online play and HD makeover and then you'll see that what Namco has done was given you another opportunity to lose months out of your life as you fight your way to become a Soul Calibur II legend, and like they say, the legend will never die.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Air Conflicts: Vietnam

In the pantheon of World War II games, there's the good, the bad, and the ugly. Air Conflicts Vietnam falls into none of those categories. Set in the beginning stages of the USA’s involvement with Vietnam, Air Conflicts Vietnam are just as the name implies, flying only. You have multiple jets and helicopters to select from, but not all of them are unlocked at the beginning. You also have pilots to choose from which offer different characteristic ratings in dogfighting, bombing, AA defense, and more. Going into this game, try not to think about this as an advanced flying sim, or even an intense flying combat game. Instead set your goal bar very, very low and you just may enjoy some of what Air Conflicts Vietnam (ACV) has to offer. Here's hoping we don't go down behind enemy lines but I can't make any of the campaign you are given a brief cinematic story of how the USA got involved with Vietnam in the beginning.

The threat of Communism spreading over the globe terrified civilians and the USA and its military might was to join forces with other countries over the globe and fight back. You play the role of a pilot who is one of the first to arrive in Vietnam at the start of the war. The story unfortunately is vapor thin with hardly any substance outside of 'fly here' and 'shoot there' aspects. This is disappointing because with Vietnam you have such a palate of content, scenes, and scenarios that can be taken right from history to bring to life such a pivotal point in mankind. Regardless of your political viewpoints on the Vietnam War, the fact remains that you could get more content from a Time Life video collection, than in the story in Air Conflicts Vietnam. A shallow start, but let's start to pull up from this nose dive.

The plane and helicopters from the Vietnam era are properly modeled; however, since this game is focused on only flying, shooting, and bombing, you would hope that the mechanics of flight not only made sense, but were accurate with the laws of physics. I hate to break it to you but they are not. For starters your left and right bumpers will maneuver the plane into a barrel roll to either side and pushing both together will effectively loop your plane. The Left and Right triggers are used for firing your weapons and your X and Y buttons are used for controlling speed.

While the button layouts are somewhat misleading, the actual physics involved with the flight itself are some that will leave you scratching your head. In reality when your helicopter has its nose pointed downward, forward flight is involved, but in ACV it's possible to fly a helicopter backwards while having the nose pointed down. Also given that one control stick tilt's the aircraft, and the other controls direction of movement, you can really perform some unbelievable flying. I say unbelievable because that's exactly what it is and it's a shame that such effort was made to devote to a realistic time period and yet the realism for flying seemed to be a nonexistent theory to the developers. You cannot control the plane on a flat axis so what you end up getting is a constant loss of depth perception which will ultimately lead to a very short lifespan since not all realistic maneuverability is included in ACV. Looks like we lost the right engine on that one, but it's ok because we still have one engine left.

When you talk priorities about ACV you can definitely see that visually the game tries to make a stunning impact, but there are some issues as well with this. Starting off, the aircraft models are done well and accurately depict the aircraft of the time period with good accuracy. The issue though with this is that if you don't fly in 3rd person view, you won't get to experience the detail. Flying from the viewpoint of just a target reticle on the screen will completely negate any graphic beauty of your plane flying through the Vietnam skies, and instead enable you to focus on the dark green, brown, and even darker green color scheme that blankets throughout this game. You can switch to a bombing camera as well to give you a top down view of your surrounding areas, but they are done in such a mediocre way that you really have nothing beautiful to look at.

If looking at slightly average graphics didn't help ACV, the sounds though aren't that much better. The weapon sounds are definitely a big plus and are done well; however, there isn't much that stands out as a piece of audio mastery. The soundtrack leaves a lot to be desired and the voice over acting can be quite comical at times, especially when you lose a wingman during combat. Looks like we just lost our last engine, things aren't looking well.

Given that Air Conflicts Vietnam released on November 19th you would expect that there would be some form of multiplayer and there is, but no one is playing it. At time of this writing there is literally no one playing this game online. You can though host a game if you want that consists of Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag. It is also possible to customize the weather, scenery, number of players, and more, but if no one is playing, good luck trying to find a game. This is a major problem for ACV because if the game released doesn't provide the quality to warrant at least one person to want to play this game online, it's time to scrap what you have and start over. This is where we start to lose full control of the plane and start heading in a massive dive.

Air Conflicts Vietnam was originally priced at $29.99 which is about $24.99 more than it's worth, and now has been reduced in price to just $19.99 brand new. While saving $10 is always nice, there's no earthly justification for purchasing this game. It makes you feel though, a bit melancholy when you think of the effort put into this and Kalypso putting their stamp of approval on such a dissapointment, but all sympathy goes right out the window when you hear the price.

So just a quick recap; you have planes that defy the universal laws of physics, a control scheme that feels schizophrenic, graphics that are marginally ok to look at, audio support that is powerless, an unsubstantial story, and a multiplayer system that even though is there, is completely nonexistent due to no one playing. I'm failing to see why anyone would even want to spend $19.99 on a retail game that packs less quality and content than some $9.99 arcade title. Sorry Kalypso, but Air Conflicts Vietnam just got shot down. This is one game that should go MIA.

Overall Score: 4.0 / 10 Crimson Dragon

Back in June at E3 2013 the world watched as the debacle unfolded for the presentation of Crimson Dragon. Those who rallied behind the classic Panzer Dragoon series were greeted with a glimmer of hope that a successor would be flying in on the next generation console; and bring forth some amazing rail based shooting aspects combined with stellar graphics, sound, and controls. Priced at $19.99 Crimson Dragon is far from a retail title, yet still provides a wealth of content, even if some of that content isn't the greatest. Brace yourself as we ride in our review of Crimson Dragon.

Humanity stands upon the edge of a knife as you enter the infamous Icarus Division on the planet Draco. Over the years a virus infestation has taken place called the Crimsonscale and it has infected every living being on the planet, including the dragons themselves. Your mission is to navigate throughout the various levels ahead and, like Darth Sidious said, "wipe them out. All of them." Killing everything on the screen is pretty much the summary of the entire story and while parts of it are entertaining, you will find that the story itself is very weak and often detracts from the game's overall quality. Originally Crimson Dragon was filled with potential to produce a storyline that enveloped the gamers as they took to the skies in their beasts, however after playing it, you will come to be annoyed that some parts of the story you cannot skip. It would actually be more entertaining to just do level select, go for rankings or medals and press on, instead of trudging through a lackluster story. It's unfortunate that right out of the gate Crimson Dragon takes a hit, but don't expect your game to get high marks for story content if you don't make the effort to write one.

For a fantastic on the rails shooting experience you need to have the gameplay to back it up, and sadly Crimson Dragon doesn't. The left and right bumpers are used for barrel rolls which will save your life if you time them right during an onslaught of incoming fire, but where you may avoid the fire you also may roll right into the side of a mountain. This wonderful sensation is brought to you by yet another clunky and muddled camera system. Fluidity is a characteristic that does not apply here as you will find yourself facing hordes of enemies from all directions and you will have to maneuver the targeting reticule around to lock in on your prey while trying to maintain a clear flight path with an unresponsive system.

To help add some stand out qualities to Crimson Dragon you will come across some areas that aren't on rails, but rather offer full 3D movement to explore the land. While this innovation seems on the surface to be a good thing, thanks to the clunky control setup, it's far from it. Losing your bearings will happen often, but when you take into account combat in this mode, you'll suffer a lot of unnecessary deaths. Originally designed to be a pure Kinect game, Crimson Dragon has opted to stick with the Xbox One controller, yet still offer some use for Kinect. Voice command navigation through the menus is a nice touch, but your controller can do that as well but not as quickly. You can also use Kinect to control your wingman, however, the voice commands you have to issue are rather lengthy and when you are in the heat of battle, controlling your wingman through voice becomes more of a chore than a benefit.

Not all is doom and gloom though for Crimson Dragon. The leveling system is fairly in depth and allows you to unlock, customize, and upgrade a wide variety of different flying dragons. Each of them offers different characteristics including elemental damage. This game however, is limited to only three types: lightning, wind and fire, and you must be careful on the making the right choice for the level ahead. Throughout the short levels you can come across new abilities that you can train your dragon in so also make sure you know what dragon you wish to upgrade and learn these new abilities. Even though this aspect of growing your own dragon is a nice addition, you will find that your starting dragon can become a world wrecking powerhouse from its early development.

Another innovation to Crimson Dragon is the ability to hire your own wingman. These do set you back a substantial amount and they are only available for use in a few missions before dissipating, but there increased damage and overall support is undeniable. These wingmen though are not just generic characters, but rather AI characters taken straight from the leaderboards. When you also factor in that a wingman can make up for a bad choice in elemental attacks, they almost become a must have.

Given that Crimson Dragon has released on the next generation of Xbox consoles, one would expect a dynamic improvement since the original Xbox days, and you would be right. Earlier on you read that this game does allow for full 3D exploration of only some levels, however, all the arenas you fly through are sensational when compared to the past Panzer Dragoon games. Even the flapping wings of the different dragons seem more realistic; however, the models of the dragons themselves do leave something to be desired. Given that we have seen phenomenal looking flying beasts on the Xbox 360, you find yourself asking the question "if they could do it on the Xbox 360, then why not at least match the quality on the Xbox One?". The graphics though are not the only thing enhanced in Crimson Dragon. The entire game boasts a driving electronic soundtrack that not only varies between levels and missions, but also will lead your heart to be pounding in your chest and your palms sweating intensely as you dodge, roll, climb, dive, and survive the impending attacks. Once you hit a boss battle though, you know it's on as your speakers start pumping and you fight for your very life.

While Crimson Dragon is priced at $19.99, if you are a fan of the Panzer Dragoon series, then you will find a multitude of content to keep you occupied and satisfied. Yes there are some serious issues that hold this title back, but overall the average execution may just make this game a guilty pleasure. One thing that would have been better would be if they allowed you to customize your dragon via SmartGlass, but hopefully that is a feature that is coming down the road. When you take into account other games available on other platforms, it goes without saying that there are worse games you could buy for $19.99 so why not pick up a better game for a better price?

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Forza Motorsport 5

Throughout the history of mankind there have only been a few select moments that have altered its future and the birth of automotive transportation is one such moment. Freedom was just a turn of the key away, and only our imaginations became our limitations. The sensation of the road beneath your tires with a ribbon of black asphalt stretched out before your eyes is a feeling unlike any other, and in Forza 5 we find the greatest tribute to one of the great liberators in the history of mankind, the car. Turn 10 has been producing Forza Motorsport games since the years of the original Xbox, and with every release their goal is to pay homage by delivering the best driving experience you can find anywhere in the digital age; and they have succeeded in a way that is so significant that to accurately measure it would require you to almost compare it to other great monumental achievements in mankind. If ever there was a bar to rise, Turn 10 strapped it to the back of a Bugatti Veyron and sent it 250 miles an hour, straight into orbit while on fire. Chill the blood in your veins and start your engines because it's time to launch into the best driving game ever available on any console, Forza 5.

Starting out Forza 5 will treat you to an opening sequence by Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson, and after that the game takes you straight into racing behind the wheel of a McLaren P1. This is Forza's way of introducing you to the world of motorsport and the physics that coincide with its existence. You will then be able to choose a car for the upcoming league event you will be participating in. After that you are off on your way through your first series of events that will help familiarize yourself with the courses, the physics of driving itself, and such features like replay and more. Before the races begin you have the option to select different driver assists and decide if you want them on or off, also you have the ability to choose your difficulty of competition. The other racers you will find in Forza are not computer AI controlled vehicles, but actual human drivers via their Drivatar.

Think of your Drivatar as a "virtual you" that learns how you play Forza 5. Techniques such as how you take the apex of a turn, breaking and vehicle control, passing, and more are all recorded as part of what could be considered a virtual training simulation. Upon completion of your initial events you will notice your Drivatar will sync with the information from the recently completed race. Once this process is complete your Drivatar is born, but will have a lot more to learn. This is done by driving and a lot of it. Through racing you will gain the ability to fine tune and develop your Drivatar so that its performance will be better in the digital world, so just like life, the more you train, the more you will improve. This is one of Forza 5's biggest innovations and now will set a standard for other developers to follow.

Once done with the initial league events you can move into the career menu. Through this menu you can hit the B button to go back to the main menu, or you can select from: Continue Career, League Select, Car, and Forzavista. As the name implies, Continue Career allows you to pick up right where you left off, so you don't have to go searching through individual races to find where you last tore up the pavement. League Select allows you jump between different events for different classes of cars such as the hyper car Bugatti Veyron, Grand Touring, Exotics, Open Wheel and more. Each league is comprised of multiple races so when you take into account the amount of content in actual racing, it's simply mind-blowing.

The car menu selection allows you view, buy, upgrade, and paint your cars. While the first two are pretty self-explanatory, the submenu Forzavista allows you to view your cars by digitally interacting with them. You can open the doors, climb inside the seats, start the car, view a video on your car, and more. While this feature is a novel approach to examining your cars, when you take into account the diminished number of cars available, you may save this feature for only a select few rides. While viewing the cars is fantastic, the upgrade option is another innovation that really sets Forza 5 apart from the competition. There is a quick upgrade option that will maximize your car's performance based on the class you select. While this is quick and efficient, when you dive into the actual amount of upgrade components available, you can really get a feel for the sheer mass of a game this size.

If that wasn't enough you even have the ability to apply a conversion to your car that can affect either the engine via an engine swap or you can swap out the drivetrain, or both. This also changes the upgrades available for your car and can chance the performance instantly. On top of upgrading components of your car, you also have the ability to tune your vehicle in multiple areas such as: tire pressure, suspension, gear ratios, and more. This feature has been welcomed with open arms by the gaming community to the point where gamers have become known for their setups of cars and it's through here that you get to experience Forza 5 like never before.

Just as tuning has its own devoted following of gearheads, so does Forza's artistic painting. In the past Forza games have given artists a chance to showcase some amazing and often beautiful pieces of artwork. Other artists, including myself would spend hours upon hours creating stunning imagery with only 1000 layers to work with, but not anymore. Back at E3 2013, XboxAddict reported that the number of layers would increase with the release of Forza 5, and now our painting prayers have been answered. The sides and top have now had their available layer increased from 1000 to 3000 layers, and now the bumpers and wing have had their limit increased to 1000. If going blind trying to line up individual layers isn't exciting for you, there is an option where you can search the marketplace for different designs based off of what keyword(s) you type in. Once you find the design you can pay the credit value (if there is one) and the design is yours! What this means is that the quality of the artwork is going to exponentially increase, making Forza 5 the uncontested king of turning cars in masterpieces of art.

This is thanks to the jaw dropping beauty of Forza 5's graphics. Cars from all over the planet have come to life in a surreal manner that is without a doubt, breathtaking. Every curve, every edge, every bolt, every inch. Attention to detail is one thing, but almost life like duplication is a whole other matter. Not only will you drool over the quality of the cars, but the race tracks themselves will send you right over the edge. Tracks from all over the world combine with iconic legends like Laguna Seca and La Mans to give you a backdrop that every motoring enthusiast would sell their very soul for. Given that most of us are not multi billionaires that could fly around the world, renting these tracks, and transporting our cars all over the globe, Forza 5 gives an almost flawless life like replication of what experiencing this would be like. While you are cascading down the straights, or drifting around a tight hairpin curve, your ears are blanketed by a symphony of harmonies and choirs. This almost holy themed soundtrack is one that you would expect from a different style game, but the minimalistic feeling sets the tone perfectly. Hearing a choir with a string section as I'm power sliding around a corner with my tires screeching, engine revving, and my turbo spinning is an amazing marriage of sound between car and music. This is one harmony that I never saw coming, but am so thankful that it's here.

With the grand amount of content packed into the career mode of Forza 5, you would think that it would be all said and done, but not this time. Outside of the career mode is the main menu where you will find various tiles where you can quick select from tuning/upgrading, paint, Forza profile, Forza TV, message center, and coming soon, the Forza marketplace. Other options are available too from the main menu and consist of Rivals which ultimately is a leaderboard hunt where you can try and outrun your friends. The other selections are Free Play, which is where you can do split screen racing and configure the race in a multitude of options. Then we have Forza 5's famous multiplayer system. Here you can compete in multiple challenges where you can see what requirements are needed and how many racers will be competing. Some of the events require a certain car, such as racing the McLaren P1 V.S. La Ferrari. Yes you will lose yourself in Forza 5's career mode, but you cannot rule out the amount of content and quick access in the main menu. Forza 5 delivers on a lot of fronts but one innovation is a step in the right direction, and that is the head tracking via Kinect. When activated you must sit in front of your sensor and Kinect will recognize your head and then when you turn your head in the game, your view will follow suit. While this feature is fun and is quite interesting to the players that actually lean while playing driving games, it's execution leaves little to be desired and thus not a deal breaking feature.

Forza 5 is the accumulation of decades of desire and centuries of passion. Since its conception, mankind has always wanted cars that went faster, that were more powerful, and that made you turn your head and gawk. Turn 10 has done a spectacular job in delivering the best racing experience you can find on the Xbox One. We can only hope that in the future there will be support available for Microsoft's SmartGlass, but as of right now, it doesn't exist. This could be an innovative new way to do tuning, or artwork, but only time will tell if Turn 10 decides to implement it. If you are a fan of cars, a fan of racing, or a fan of art, there is no reason why you wouldn't want to own the undisputed king of racing, Forza 5.

Suggestions: Please look into using SmartGlass for this game. Tuning your car via SmartGlass and/or designing artwork would make this the standout game for SmartGlass use. Would also like to see an increase in environments to race in. Forza 4 provided 27 different areas while we only find 14 on Forza 5 on the Xbox One.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Killer Instinct

Over a decade of waiting, gamers around the world have been subjected to numerous teasers which amounted to nothing, the running joke of April fool’s jokes, but no longer. For those XboxAddict faithful, you'll know that I've personally been waiting for this moment since the Nintendo 64 days, and when the lights went down over the Xbox One launch, that was when the bell rang out and the fight was on. Killer Instinct makes a triumphant return as a downloadable game in the Xbox One store. There are many different versions of Killer Instinct to choose from and as expected different price points as well. For instance you can purchase the game for free, however the content you get is limited to only Jago as a selectable fighter and you will also miss out on the other five levels and characters as well. Currently there are six characters available now and those characters are:

Orchid
Chief Thunder
Jago
Sabrewulf


More characters will follow such as Spinal and Fulgore, coming in January and March respectively. Given the number of variants of Killer Instinct, the price breakdown and content is as follows:

1) FREE - Jago only
2) Single Character - $5 per character
3) Combo Breaker Pack - $19.99 (First 8 characters which includes 6 from launch and 2 more to follow later)
4) Ultra Edition - $39.99 (First 8 characters which includes 6 from launch and 2 more to follow, PLUS costumes for each character, and accessories for each character, and even the original Killer Instinct game.)

Then Pinny Arcade has decided to step up to the plate and release a Killer Instinct Pin Ultimate Edition. This is the edition that we will be using for this review as it includes everything that you will find in the Ultra Edition, however like any true warrior you now have a way of showcasing your talents to the world. This version allows you to collect physical metal pins that have different characters, emblems and more and collect them inside a hardcover case. At this time there are two ways to acquire new pins once they are available. You can either purchase them plus pay for shipping costs, or you can register your Pin Ultimate Edition and complete various challenges throughout the months to get them sent to you as a reward for your success in Killer Instinct! Now you know what versions there are available, let's dive into the game itself. Fight on!

Right away you will be taken down memory lane as you here the terminator style drums kick in and the Killer Instinct title fade in from the fire below. Once you hit the start button to begin, your ears immediately feel the joy as the infamous guitar riff starts to take over your speakers. For any Killer Instinct fan, this moment was one that solidified your belief and faith in a game that was once thought to never be released again. From the opening menu you have some various options besides just the standard local, online and option menus. Your options in the local menu allow for player vs. player matches, survival mode, dojo missions which essentially are training simulations that you have to accomplish and will take you from the basics to advanced techniques of Killer Instinct.

You will also find training mode here which will allow you select an individual character and practice his/hers/it's combinations and even ultras as well. You can configure the training dummy as expected from other fighting games, but there is one thing missing, and that is a story mode. Why there isn't any form of story mode is beyond us and still leaves us with lingering questions from the last Killer Instinct. One little ding though has to fall with the multiplayer option. Your multiplayer menu will allow you to fight in either exhibitions or ranked matches online and view the leaderboards. If you want to challenge your friends it's incredibly simple to host a match and send out an invite, but ultimately in the end that is all that is provided at launch.

Other menu options such as Fight Archive allow you to view your fight profile, your achievements, and even replays which can be selected as favorites for view later. With the Xbox One allowing to record game footage, now your replays can be recorded and uploaded so you can show off your 50+ hit ultra-combos! Underneath the Fight Archive is the KI Store and it's in here that you can purchase additional characters, levels, and even character costumes. The costumes and levels must be purchased using the in game currency known as KP.

Gaining KP is done by completing various challenges such as jumping over 10 projectiles, winning one fight of survival mode, and so on. Once you have enough points you can purchase the levels, however, to purchase the costumes you first must complete the requirement to unlock it. These requirements follow a similar criteria to earning KP, and once unlocked can be purchased. Rounding out the new menu options is the Customization selection. Here you can go through all your characters and customize not only the color of their outfit, but their accessories as well. For instance instead of Jago wielding a razor sharp sword, he could use a mace instead. Each character has their own customization options to unlock and provides a great way to diversify the characters from their standard stock appearance.

There is a menu that will allow you to configure your buttons and that is critical in every fighting game, and in Killer Instinct, it's no different. The play controls are incredibly smooth which allow beginners to pick up and play while giving Killer Instinct masters, a true test on chaining together their longest combos. Killer Instinct is definitely a game that is simplistic on the outside but incredibly deep when you dive into the controls. Thankfully there is little lag when it comes to the button input which means that linking and chaining long combinations are fairly simple, however watch out for that combo breaker. In previous versions, your combo breaker required you to perform a certain move and match the strength of the attack in order to break it. This means that if your opponent hits you with a strong attack, your combo breaker must be done with a strong attack. While this could get confusing to some, in this version of Killer Instinct, you can use a combo breaker by using the right stick and pushing it either up, left, right, or down.

There are some new aspects as well to the gameplay and those are the Counter Breakers, Shadow moves/linkers, and instinct mode. The counter breakers are devastating moves that when pulled off correctly will allow you to counter your opponent's combo breaker and continue your unrelenting attacks at will. These turn the tide of a fight almost instantly and are a key to success. For instance, let's say that your opponent may be reveling in a successful combo breaker after you landed 15 hits; however, their hopes are immediately dashed as you counter their combo breaker and beat the ever loving crap out of them.

Instinct Mode allows your character special traits and abilities when activated. Some of these traits increase mobility while others can regenerate health. In order to use these new abilities you have to charge your Instinct meter to full and activate it, and even though the effects may be only temporary, when you time it right it could mean the difference between walking out alive, or death. Another addition to the gameplay is the inclusion of a "shadow meter" found at the bottom left of the screen. This meter climbs when you take damage, execute special attacks, and more, but what is interesting is what this shadow meter does to your character when activated. Take Jago for instance; normally he can only fire one projectile at a time; however, when he activates the shadow meter he fires five.

Once in the game you will see that Killer Instinct looks absolutely stunning. Character modeling has been taken to a level that fans have dreamed about but never seen in existence, until now. The background detail is also done very well. Various stages such as Glacius' crashed ship, Sabrewulf's dungeon, or Sadira's spider lair provide stunning backdrops to the fluid and intense fighting that will be taking place momentarily. Making sure the graphics run with a high sense of fluidity is a difficult challenge when creating a fighting game, but the crew at Double Helix Games makes it look effortless. While your eyes may be overjoyed by the visual beauty, your ears, however, will celebrate when you hear the dynamic soundtrack play throughout the fight. Each level has its own theme, however, as the fighting progresses and intensifies, the music will change. You will hear alterations and additions to the music including a rise in tempo so what you thought was just a rollercoaster ride of fun turns into a rocket launch about to go into orbit.

Also making an auditory triumphant return is the original announcer's voice for Killer Instinct. Beating the crap out of your opponent is always entertaining, however, when you hear that announcer yell, everything intensifies. Such an example would be when you land a combo breaker, the announcer yells, but if you land a counter breaker it sounds as if the announcer starts screaming "COUNTER BREAKER" right in your face. This however, is nothing compared to when you land the mother of all combos, the ultra-combo. This is where the announcer goes absolutely ape s*** crazy and screams as loud as he can, UUUUUULLLLLLLTTRRRRRRAAAAAA CCCCOOOOOOOMMMMBBBBOOOOOOOO.

There are a few gripes with Killer Instinct, such as the lack of a true story mode, online lobbies, ladder matches, lengthy load times for the fights, etc. Overall though, by producing a superior fighting game at a budget price point is a task that few attempt, and even fewer succeed, however the crew at Double Helix Games have pulled it off in a way that is absolutely remarkable. Solid and fluid gameplay is combined with stunning visuals, dynamic sounds, and relentless to create a truly mesmerizing fighting experience. With the inclusion of the original arcade game, this version of Killer Instinct is hands down the best value for dollar experience you can find right now on the Xbox One.

Suggestions: Include more multiplayer modes which include online lobbies, winner stays matches, ladder matches, etc. Please also work on including a story mode going forward. Include online play with the original Killer Instinct arcade game. It was possible to play the original Killer Instinct on the Super Nintendo via the Xband, but why not now?

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD

One of my favorite gaming franchises of all time is without question, Castlevania. Growing up in days of 8-bit, side scrolling, vampire slaying greatness, I have witnessed an evolution of sorts throughout the decades that have seen amazing innovations, fantastic storytelling, and an increase in addiction to scouring the maps hoping to find that long lost treasure. The classic Castlevania relied heavily on creating multiple side scrolling environments that allowed you to explore every nook and cranny of Dracula's castle while pitting you against a seemingly endless supply of nightmarish creatures that one must fight through to reach the prince of darkness himself.

MercurySteam attempted a reboot of the Castlevania franchise and released Lords of Shadow to mixed reviews. There were some who reveled in the beauty and transition to a 3D environment, while there were some that crucified the game and all involved with it as blasphemy. In an attempt to salvage the hard work of many, MercurySteam released a title on the Nintendo 3DS called Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate. Besides having one of the longest titles for a Castlevania game, or any game period, it offered MercurySteam a chance to help tell the story with more detail leading into the next release called Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2. Knowing the fan base spans larger than a handheld gaming platform, MercurySteam decided to port the 3DS release straight onto the Xbox Live Arcade but give it and HD makeover and charge $14.99 plus tax. Some may call it a gift, others may call it an excuse to grab any cash they can off the name. Which is it? Let's find out.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD (which will be known as MoF) spans six decades of vampire slaying lineage for the Belmont family. You will get to play as Trevor Belmont, Simon Belmont, and Alucard himself. These three events take place in a nonlinear fashion and will find you ultimately taking part in a paper thin story which leads to one final destination, the death of Dracula. This is where the first fault is found because MercurySteam has decided with all this extra power from console hardware, not to include any more plot content at all from the handheld version. I'm sorry but if you wanted to explain and give more detail to help gamers bridge the gap between LoS and LoS 2, then why not utilize this release to do so? Not only is the plot thinner than water, but the story itself is ridiculously short in stature. There is even an achievement for finishing the game in less than 3 hours and 30 minutes. $14.99 price tag for a game that can be beaten in less than 3 hours and 30 minutes and we are supposed to be overjoyed by this?

Another tear in the dark lord’s cape comes directly from the environment as well. Yes there are a few items to discover along the way and some will only be available to obtain after you have ventured far enough to gain new abilities and then backtrack to where you originally began to try and uncover all that was once hidden or out of reach. The latter part of that last sentence can be said about many of the Castlevania games in the past; however, what once seemed like an army of the undead now feels more like a long walk with only a few enemies here and there. The boss battles though remain the game's toughest challenges and will easily deplete any health you may have if you don't pay attention to their movements and time your strikes well. I did however find the controls did need some improvement, but unleashing that whip with brutal, unending force always brings a smile to my face.

Now the letters at the end of the title are HD, which signifies that the graphics should be greatly improved over the 3DS, and that they are. The cut scenes are done in a beautiful, comic book style scene, and although short in length, is one of the highlights of the graphics. The environments, without question, feel like a Castlevania game and even the character modeling has seen significant improvement. While all of this looks good so far, there is one element that made its horrific return in MoF, and that are the quick time events. With LoS there was a twist to the QuickTime scheme which required you to time your button presses to correspond with the rings on the screen. Now that has been replaced with either following a sequence of button presses or beating the crap out of your A button.

I have been a supporter of MercurySteam's first Lords of Shadow but sadly I'm beginning to feel that things are going a step backwards. Everything, minus the online leaderboards, has been taken straight from the 3DS, and when MercurySteam had a chance to improve upon the console versions, they didn't. They did though include a downloadable demo for the upcoming game, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. The important word to focus on here is demo. If this is the only way MercurySteam will let you play the demo, then wait for the game instead. I can't comprehend why someone would pay $14.99 plus tax for what appears to be a complete lack of effort plus a demo of an upcoming game that gamers know ahead of time doesn't resemble the final product. There was so much potential for this game, yet it feels like MercurySteam let it all slip away.

The story could be better. The controls could be tighter. The graphics could be better. Almost everything could be better. Now I know you're sitting there saying "yes but it's just a port of a 3DS game, so you're wanting too much." And my response would be, is it too much to ask for a good story in a Castlevania game? Is it too much to ask for responsive controls given the 2D environment in a Castlevania game? No, no it's not.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Hexodius

There has always been a diehard niche in the video game world that revolves around top quality twin stick shooter titles. There have been iconic staples from the past such as Geometry Wars that have long since set the standard for those to follow. Recently Brain Slap Studio and Namco Bandai Games have taken a PC title over to the Xbox Live Arcade called Hexodius in an attempt to see if their twin stick shooter can top the competition. The story is fairly straight forward and involves a robot named Fred who builds your character, B.O.B. and the two of you set out on a fast paced, action packed adventure to stop the evil robot forces. Yup that’s pretty much all there is to say about the story. While priced at only $9.99, Hexodius already won't put a dent in your wallet, but is it worth a purchase right now, or is this a budget game that should be picked up during a sale? Time to find out.

By definition, twin stick shooting action requires you to move about with the left joystick while aiming your projectiles with the right. You are free to fire in any direction as is the same with movement. This alone encompasses the main criteria for producing a quality title that utilizes twin stick action and thankfully Hexodius has done it right. Not only has Hexodius nailed the core mechanics but they have also incorporated a mix of dungeon crawling elements that will have you uncovering the map to obtain every possible upgrade. Speaking of the map, each level in the story is laid out in a hexagonal maze where each available space offers up either: A) Checkpoints and repair spots, B) Some form off offensive encounter, C) Store, D) Teleport, E) Map uncovering scans, F) Boss/End Level teleports, or G) Blank spaces.

Most of the time you will find yourself engaging enemies in battles, however, this is where the second gem is found. Throughout your exploration of each level you will have the ability to not only purchase, but find new upgrades for your B.O.B. to help you clear tougher levels, but there is a catch. You are limited to the amount of upgrades you can use per level throughout the entire game, so choose wisely.

Upgrades and bonuses range from automatic turrets that disappear after a set amount of time, to shields that can not only absorb damage, but reflect it as well, to even flamethrowers for extreme close quarters damage. You will get the opportunity to equip only three upgrades, so make sure that you decide what works best for you when playing. Then you have to decide what four bonus items you want to equip and these will only be unlocked when the resources become available. How do they become available you ask? Great question and the answer is simple, from the deaths of many, many enemy robots. The enemies in this game follow somewhat similar characteristics to those found in Geometry Wars. There are those that you can only attack from behind, enemies that will run away when you try to fire at them, and more. Each one of these enemies, when killed, will drop a varying amount of resources and after you collect a certain amount, your bonus items and weapons will be available to use. Upon level completion you will be graded from no pass to S rank and your performance will net you needed coins to purchase other upgrades and bonus items from the store located on every level.

Graphically speaking the level layouts are done in bright vibrant colors, but lack the "pop" that would keep our eyes from blinking. There is another issue and that is on some levels, for instance, the enemies you face turn to that color of the level making it quite difficult to distinguish and thus ultimately leading to hordes of enemies coming up to surprise you or hit you off screen. In one instance I was on a lava planet, which was red and my enemies turned to a reddish tint, which was more red on the screen, and then they fired shots at me which were red as well. This lack of definition can also be found in the sound quality. Mediocre level music compiled with mediocre map music, and sprinkled with a dash of mediocre menu music and you've hit the nail on the head. With the varying degree of level settings you would think that such attention would also come from the music department, sadly this isn't the case either.

What Hexodius does really well is deliver fast paced shooting and quality twin stick action, however, with faults being formed on both the graphic and sound aspects, it's far from perfect. When you take into account the arcade mode which is just score attack throughout six different levels, the bulk of your time will be spent in story mode, and if you only give value to half of your title, then that too is a fault to consider. Even though Hexodius is priced at $9.99, that price still seems a bit high for the amount of quality content that you do get. If you are a huge fan of Geometry Wars, then this could be the next big thing for you, but if you wait till it goes on sale, then you are really paying for what it's worth.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Call of Duty: Ghosts

Another battle in the frantic world of first person shooters (FPS) has begun. The never ending war between Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty is back in full swing and this time, Call of Duty: Ghosts takes aim to secure the crown and if the 1 billion (yes billion with a b) in launch day sales doesn't catch your eye, Infinity Ward has two discs of content ready to finish the job. The Call of Duty franchise has seen a volatile history not only between Infinity Ward and Treyarch, but between Activision itself and Infinity Ward. Talks about grand developments were blended with a massive media onslaught and then the fuse was lit. Call of Duty: Ghosts exploded out of the gates on day 1 with 1 billion in sales, however instead of a global cheer of happiness and excitement; there was a global roar of displeasure and ill will. This new Call of Duty: Ghosts seems to be gutted from versions we have played before, but how can this be? Well after reading this, you'll see why:

A) The war between Activision-Infinity Ward-Treyarch has cost the series greatly.

And

B) I'm going back to Black Ops 2 for my Call of Duty fix.

In the past the Call of Duty plot lines were fairly straightforward and may have presented "omg" moments via the plot but more often were done through over the top cinematic sequences that tried to give gamers a grand perspective of everything going on. This Call of Duty is no different. A massive war is ongoing against The Federation and it is up to you and your team of Ghosts to infiltrate and tip the scales of power in your favor in order to save mankind. The story is following the same watered down suit as we've experienced before in the past and even though the situations have been more over the top than before, the bond with the dog Riley seems to be the best part of the story.

Honestly I never really cared for the story of the Call of Duty games as there never was any real depth or emotional connection. Other games such as Final Fantasy VII or the original Bioshock offered much deeper stories that grasped the gamer and provided a phenomenal storyline. Call of Duty games never seemed to have that; and even though there is a dog in the game, it's a shame that his presence is the best part of the story. What's even more of a shame is that the story is the best part of Call of Duty: Ghosts and here's the reason why:

Multiplayer has always been the heart and soul of the Call of Duty games. Providing a 15 hour or so campaign was nice, but gamers over the globe invested billions of hours online which makes any form of multiplayer that much more important. Earlier I mentioned that Call of Duty: Ghosts seems to be gutted from earlier versions of CoD games and this is where things go from bad to worse. For starters if you wanted to do Co-Op anything you have two choices:

1) Squad mode - which pits you and up to five other people against computer AI throughout various levels. There are different modes to go through, but nothing really groundbreaking or worth justifying a $60 day one purchase.

2) Extinction - I feel that this replaces the zombie mode as now you are trying to eliminate a hostile alien race with extreme prejudice. Yup you fight aliens in Call of Duty. Now I've seen everything.

Neither mode really stood out as something earth shattering which was disappointing given that there is so much potential that isn't being utilized for whatever reason.

Also earlier I mentioned briefly about the battle going on at Activision with Infinity Ward and Treyarch. The reason I mentioned this was because originally the battle was between Infinity Ward and Treyarch to create the best Call of Duty experience you could find on any platform. This was the case for years until the battle switched between Infinity Ward and Activision. Without recalling all the events that took place, the end result was Infinity Ward essentially being stripped down and forced to restaff due to departures. While Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 did get released with the assistance of Sledgehammer Games, Call of Duty: Ghosts is the first Call of Duty title from the new Infinity Ward only. This plays a significant role because Ghosts, pales in comparison to not only past Infinity Ward games, but Treyarch as well. This dynamic shift has had tremendous consequences and not all of them are good. Starting first with the graphics.

Poor. Bad. Outdated. Less quality than Black Ops 2. Take your pick but all of them are easy, one word descriptions that justify the graphics of this game. Buildings seem bland with little to no attention to detail, and upon closer examination of your entire environment, you will easily see a lack of effort in creating a visual masterpiece. Even the dog itself looks better, but upon closer examination looks as if Infinity Ward needs to ramp up on the graphics technology if they are going to have any success moving forward.

Not only are the graphics mildly impressive to begin with, you will also have to contend with frame rate issues throughout the game, which leaves you wondering, "With all this technology available that has created eye blinding beauty in the past, why not use it now?". With games like Battlefield 4 already out, dealing with frame rate issues on graphics that look very outdated isn't something that Call of Duty fans around the globe want to face. But yet they have to. This is even more evident when considering that the Xbox One version of Call of Duty is native at 720p and will only upscale to 1080p. Things have just gone from a downward spiral, to an unhindered free-fall; and the worst is yet to come.

The multiplayer aspect is one that we agree on is the most important for a Call of Duty game because it helps to deliver a very high replay value to gamers, and if that suffers, then so does the replay value, and it's here that we find some of the greatest changes to Call of Duty: Ghosts. Theater mode is now nonexistent. UAV's are but a memory. No Headquarters mode or Hardpoint and I don't know why. Instead of UAV's flying overhead they have been replaced by a deployable item called a SAT COM which sits on the ground and after enough have been activated, a UAV style scan starts to appear. Gone is the dive and it's replaced by a double knee slide (like your soldier went to rock star camp). Starting out you will have access to one squad member out of a total of 10. Each of these squad members has six loadouts, however, you only have access to three of them and you have to unlock them with Squad Points. These points are the currency you need to unlock pretty much everything within the multiplayer game. Weapons, attachments, perks, score streaks, squad mates, loadout slots, and even requesting new objectives cost Squad Points.

Squad points are gained by completing objectives, on the field challenges and ranking up. The field challenges are done by picking up blue briefcases which gives you a random objective to complete. These objectives could range from things like getting two kills while crouched, to killing someone from behind, to even teabagging your victim. Completing these field objectives will net you one Squad Point. You get two Squad Points for reaching the next rank and you get one Squad Point per completed objective. If you get more completed objectives then you can get up to four bonus squad points. Now take into account that some squad members cost over 200 squad points and that some weapon cost over 10 and some perks cost over 15 and you can start to see that if you want to unlock everything you will be investing a good portion of your remaining life to Call of Duty: Ghosts. That is, if it was worth the time.

This new style doesn't seem to feel right given the fact that with Black Ops 2, gamers got to unlock scopes and attachments by utilizing the weapon more and more, instead of just spending squad points to unlock everything. Yes you had unlock points but now you don't need to level anything up to unlock what you want, so if you wanted to, right from the beginning, you can safe up enough points and buy the under barrel grenade attachment for your assault rifle, instead of having to level the weapon itself up (which I may point out, required more dedication than saving points for a purchase).

Another massive blow to Call of Duty: Ghost's multiplayer system is that it only supports up to 12 players in some game modes, not all. When you take into account that the competition offers up 24 player combat (current gen), only providing 12 players on some modes simply doesn't make the cut. What was Infinity Ward thinking? If your competition allows for 24 players, then why cut back by half? It may be because they want to keep the frame rate smooth, however, when you factor in the average graphics of the multiplayer, that doesn't seem to be a logical reason.

On top of all of this the new levels feel much larger in size which means you'll spend more time running around seeing nobody only to be picked off by a camping sniper that’s tucked away in a corner and forced to respawn and do it all over again. With these larger maps you will notice an increase in more tactical gameplay, which is a nice way of saying there's going to be a dramatic increase in camping. All these maps feel that they could have supported larger groups than just 12, but sadly they don't. There's even a new infected multiplayer mode which seems like it took a page straight out of the Halo universe as you're armed with shotguns and the goal of the infected is to kill those who aren't. There are some other new variants and new multiplayer modes, but with an almost straight copy of Halo's infected gameplay and the removal of Hardpoint and Headquarters, you will find a better multiplayer experience in Black Ops 2.

Without question Call of Duty: Ghosts delivers a relatively enjoyable first person shooter experience, however we as gamers have become accustomed to more bells, whistles, innovations, and improvements and sadly we find very little of all of those in this title. Sure your stats carry over from the Xbox 360 version to the Xbox One version, but given the minimal upgrade when moving to the next gen consoles, Call of Duty: Ghosts is still in a world of hurt. With Ghosts being gutted and reduced to a shell of what it could be, the competition providing 24 player matches, a Squad Point system that would be worth investing months into if the multiplayer was better quality, a native 720p performance on the Xbox One, better replay value from older titles and more; Call of Duty: Ghosts is a massive disappointment and for those reasons, if you want a top quality Call of Duty experience, stay with Black Ops 2. There is a silver lining though to this whole debacle and that is we as gamers won't have to wait long for the next Call of Duty game to come out.

Suggestions: On a personal note I want to say a big thank you to Activision for their campaign to help find Veterans jobs when they return home from service. This is a wonderful campaign and I wish them all the success in the world for honoring our real world heroes. If you wish to contribute you can go to your local retailer (mine was EB games) and there they should have a metal dog tag in a package which you can pick up for less than $6.00 and ALL PROCEEDS go to helping veterans gain employment.

As for improving Call of Duty: Ghosts though, without question improve the graphics. Keep the format from Black Ops 2 as a foundation for improvements. Try not to get over excited and remove more than you should. Improve the graphics. Increase the amount of gamers that can play in a match from 12 to 24. Do away with Squad Points. Revamp multiplayer in all aspects.

Overall Score: 7.2 / 10 Batman Arkham Origins

AAAHHHA-HA-HA or is it HOOOOOHO-HO-HO, oh well who cares. Welcome back to Gotham kiddies and Merry Christmas! Now Christmas time is supposed to be about love and family and blah blah blah, but what we really care about is the presents! Sadly though, Santa is a bit tied up at the moment so your old pal Joker here has taken it upon himself to fill his boots for the city of Gotham during Christmas Eve night! Now I know what you're saying, "Joker how can you possibly expect to deliver all those presents in one night?" and the answer is simple! Employ a small army of ruthless and heavily armed elves all handpicked by yours truly!

Now though there are rumors fluttering through the air about a man who wants to be the Grinch of the season and to top it all off, he's dressed up like a giant bat!?!?!? Can you believe it, and they say I'm the one who needs help?!?!?!? Well no Grinch is going to stop my Christmas, and in fact let me tell you a little story that will leave you grinning from ear to ear. I'm calling Batman Arkham Origins and it all begins on a night like tonight...

Twas the night before Christmas and Gotham was merry. Not a bad guy in sight so things weren't so scary. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, but Black Mask escaped jail so he's no longer there. Assassins all over took notice with glee as the Black Mask put up, a whole bunch of money. The job was simple, and that's kill the Bat, and 50 million bucks to the one who did that. The night became lively with bad guys abound, he may own the sky, but we all own the ground. I heard their calls going out through the night, ON Shiva, ON Bane, this is one awesome fight. The calls rang out ON Croc, ON Deathstroke, ON Copperhead and Firefly, ON Electrocutioner, On Deadshot, shoot him out of the sky. The hunt was now on with the clock ticking down, but everyone forgot this smiling little clown. Will Batman survive by a very close shave, or will a cunning assassin put him in his grave? The night is still young and what a great lead in, to tell you more about Batman Arkham Origins.

Did you like the story kiddos?!?!? There's so much more to tell, but it's naughty to look at your presents early! Speaking of presents, I've heard Batman has some wonderful toys at his disposal. We all have heard about his remote controlled this, his grapple that, his batwhatever, his crypto who cares, blah blah blah, but now I've heard he's got a new toy that will allow him to target an enemy and grapple them to another enemy, an interactive object, or even hang them from a stationary ledge! Batman also has other items that he can requisition from fallen foes to help him along the way such as the Shock Gauntlets that allow him to recharge dead generators and gain access to previously unreachable parts of Gotham. Now really after all that do you think that’s fair?!?!?!? All I've got is this killer smile...... and a whole bunch of explosives. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Apparently he has a vehicle that lets him fast travel to various points in the city, and guess what he's called it... guess... come on.... NOPE! He's called it The Batwing! Oh but apparently his precious little plane doesn't seem to like these hijacked radio frequencies so he'll need to disable them before he can use it in the area. Here, have a cookie.

Controlling and gliding are all what we've heard and experienced before but now with this new grapple accelerator he apparently has the ability to chain glides together seamlessly with the push of the A button. Now SHHHHHHHH, you didn't hear this from me, but I've heard that our Batman has a bit of an ego problem and has called himself the "WORLDS GREATEST DETECTIVE" and this is because of his new detective mode which allows him to reconstruct crime scenes to determine who did what to who and when and where. It's through this new detective mode that Batman can identify bodies, but more importantly determine a timeline of events that led up to the crime. This mode will also allow Batman to scour and identify any evidence that my help him determine what happened during the crime.

Once Batman has compiled all his evidence for the crime, the great detective not only will know what happened, but who's responsible and next on his "naughty" list. Personally I feel that if you have a computer doing everything for you, that you're not really being a detective, right? One thing that I've also heard is that Batman is one heck of a fighter, but this doesn't just come from beating bad guys in the head with the same polished fighting mechanics from before; but with new training simulations and challenges that gain him experience and the ability to unlock improvements on his gear.

This time however, Batman will have to utilize every bit of training to contend with the local thugs looming around Gotham. No more do you have just standard enemies that are either armed or not, but now Batman will have to contend with Heavy thugs which are dressed head to toe in body armor and are impervious to melee attacks and will require you to stun them with your cape before trying to take them down. Not only are these new thugs going to pose a serious challenge for Batman, but there are new martial art style baddies that will counter Batman's attacks with some of their own which in turn will force Batman to learn one unforgettable lesson, learn how to counter a counter, or die. Throughout these fights you will gain XP based on how well you perform and the variety of takedowns you use throughout your combo chaining. Once enough XP has been earned to level up, you will gain the ability to improve one part of your gear. How do I improve my gear? By lighting a match.

Now this tale is an original one kiddos and done by a new studio, but that doesn't mean that our old city is looking tarnished and run down; in fact it's looking better than ever with much more exploration at your fingertips. Buildings and bridges look far more realistic and the inside environments look incredibly life like. Not only has the environment made to look more realistic, but the character models themselves have received a nice artistic touch. Villans such as Penguin, Deathstroke, and more have been drawn to a degree that dramatically fits their psychosis perfectly. They even managed to do great work on my pearly whites!!!..... and on every other baddie throughout the game.

So what this means is now we know that the graphics team at WB Games Montreal is on our "NICE" list. Being that this is an original, you will also hear new actors trying to portray our beloved characters. There are some that do a quality job on yours truly, and yet there are some that smell worse than croc and are shorter in character than Penguin. If you thought that you would be hearing familiar voices throughout the game, you would sadly be mistaken. Gone are the classic voices that we have all grown up with and WB Games Montreal stood firm in making sure that this game holds almost no similar voice acting to make sure that this game is "theirs" and not just more of the same from a different studio. This seems a bit disappointing for long term fans and you can't help but feel that if as much detail went into the sounds as did the graphics, then we would have something truly amazing, but sadly it didn't. Other games have done the similar work with their voice talent and none of it has been exceptional before, and so is the same with Batman Arkham Origins. This would make me frown.... if I could.

Now what could be more exciting than playing this game alone? How about playing it with friends! Yes, you heard it here from the Joker himself, there's a new multiplayer mode, but this time Batman pairs up with boy blunder to tackle not only my gang but those of my good friend Bane as well. What a bargain that this is included since normally you have to pay extra for three way action! Each of us brings 25 of our meanest baddies and we fight not only the bat and his boy, but each other for total control of one of the several multiplayer levels! The dynamic duo will try to deplete our gangs but if we nail the bat or his boy, then all of our gang becomes available again! You know the old saying, if you can't beat 'em then get more men with guns.

So there you have it my Christmas kiddos! The latest installment into the Batman universe is almost near perfect. Sure there are a few dents and dings but those can be "pounded out" over time. With DLC looming on the horizon and a top quality story, Batman Arkham Origins is a good first step with a new development team. Ohhhhh there is so much more to tell, but some presents just have to be unwrapped themselves! So what are you waiting for???? Pick up a copy to make sure you don't get put on my naughty list! And a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a dark night! HAHAHAHA!

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda EX

It's been said that imitation is the best form of flattery, but what if the imitation was bad, we mean really, really bad? When you talk old school platforming games that offer controller breaking difficulty, hair pulling frustration, and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment upon completion, A.R.E.S. won't be in that discussion. Developed by ORiGO games and released originally out on PC a while ago, A.R.E.S. seems to take its cues directly from games like Mega Man, however, trying to pay homage to such an iconic franchise is nothing short of a titanic challenge, but ORiGO thought they were up to the task. Sadly they were wrong; very, very wrong. Let us also not forget that this tribute piece costs a whopping $15, or 1/4 the price of a full retail game. Now you may be asking yourself what exactly makes A.R.E.S. a game to overlook? Here are a few reasons why we say save your money:

A.R.E.S. tries to play off a theme that has been played out more times than we can count. On a space station deep in space, a virus has surfaced that causes the robots on board to become armed and very dangerous. The robots apparently turn on the humans on the station with one goal in mind, next stop, the end of all humanity. Naturally the only ones to stop the evil robots are two good robots named Ares and Tarus. These wonder twins are on a quest to stop Zytron from unleashing these evil robots and thus save mankind. That right there is literally the entire story of the game which is played out over seven, yes seven, platforming levels where you will have to jump and shoot and slide your way to victory. This watered down story is what is supposed to pass for a plot, but there are children in Ethiopia that have more meat to them.

While the duration of A.R.E.S. is relatively short and lacking substance, the 2D platforming aspect is in absolute abundance. The play control does take some getting used to; however, there are times where the controls vary between pinpoint and accurate, and skittish and cumbersome. There are differences between the characters to help distinguish them from each other, but outside of that, the only difference is the character model itself. For instance, Ares has a slide move whereas Tarus has a forward roll. Another example would be Ares's ability to air dash compared to Tarus's ability to hover in midair for a short period of time. These play a role in the other gameplay mechanics such as using the right stick to direct your weapon, or making sure to hit the A button perfectly to time a critical jump. While the mechanics of a 2D platformer are paramount, when the action gets hectic (especially during a boss fight), you may find the controls to be overcomplicated and borderline psychotic for your thumbs as you try to balance shooting your target and running and jumping for your life.

There may be times when A.R.E.S. seems to overwhelm you with enemies and combat, but thankfully you have an arsenal of four weapons to help you eliminate the opposition. These weapons though can be modified and upgraded through the use of upgrade chips that can be found throughout every level and after every boss battle that you win. As you progress and decimate enemy robots, you will notice that you collect materials from their fallen shells. It's these materials you will need when you obtain the upgrade chips as each one costs a certain amount of materials to use. The upgrades though are not easy to obtain and will require not only split second reaction times, but the time necessary to explore each of the seven levels trying to find them.

As this arcade game pays tribute to some old school, side scrolling, and platforming shooting games, what would be complete without vintage 16 bit graphics that have been enhanced in HD? Every single graphical facet harkens back to the day when we went crazy over the detail of sprites but now with an HD makeover, A.R.E.S. tries hard to bring you back to, as Bruce Springsteen calls it, the glory days. Even the text box dialogues between characters helps to add a sense of nostalgia to help take you back down memory lane. To compliment this entire package A.R.E.S. tries very hard to include a retro, synth heavy, electronic techno soundtrack that is reminiscent of games we have grown up enjoying. While this effort is noble at best, one can't help but notice that other games of the past have done all of this better, and for cheaper as well.

A.R.E.S. tries very hard to accommodate all the nostalgia of the past glory years of 2D platform shooting, however, there's a reason why games of the past have done this so well that they become legends, they focused on what was core to the gamer's enjoyment and left out all the other "fluff" that would not do the game justice. For $14.99 ($15) A.R.E.S. is a game that is for suckers who want a chance to relive some of the glory of old, however, if that is what you are looking for, then consider other options that would not only save you money in your wallet but give you far better enjoyment that this.

Overall Score: 7.2 / 10 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

For those of us who don't consider an original Xbox console to be an antique relic of a distant, long forgotten gaming age, there is a good chance you grew up loving the invented characters from pens of Eastman and Laird called the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If, by some chance, you happen to have lived on another planet or haven't been born yet, the premise of TMNT is fairly straightforward; There are four turtle brothers named Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. These four turtles came into contact with green ooze which mutated them into life sized characters. These brothers were cared for by a rat named Splinter who (according to the purists of the story) became their ninja sensei and taught them everything he learned while watching his owner and ninja master, Hamato Yoshi. It's through Splinter's teachings that these brothers learned about the harmony of life, the secrets of mastering the art of Ninja, and the bond that forms through brotherhood. During the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade, gamers around the globe waited patiently to get their hands on this latest turtle adventure: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. The time has come for the turtles to arise once again, but is this latest release a knockout blow, or does it get shell shocked to the discard pile. Let's find out.

Starting the game is quite possibly the best moment if you are a TMNT fan as you hear the sample from the iconic song T-U-R-T-L-E POWER booming over your speakers. If you're a fan of TMNT, then I'm sorry to say that this will probably be the highlight of your gaming experience. After that everything pretty much doesn't go downhill, but rather in an orbital free fall decent without any form of recovery. This will lead to complete amazement as you shake your head in disbelief, then feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and depression when you realize that your hopes and dreams have been utterly demonized, set on fire, demolished and then the remains blown into atoms. This is honestly where the review could end, however, there is so much going against this game that it's our duty to relay all of this agony to you our dear reader. Got all your affairs in order? Here we go.

To start things off the story is incredibly short and relies on your turtle running through various levels beating the ever loving crap out of anything that isn't a turtle. While the gameplay overview is fairly straight forward, there is barely anything at all redeeming about it. Ninjas were supposed to be renowned for their ability to move quickly, silently, and their movements would flow like the wind. In this TMNT game the characters do move quickly and silently, but instead of flowing like the wind, it feels more like a chaotic and psychotic explosion. This is caused by one of the worst cameras available in a game. The only quality that could be considered good about the camera system is that it gives other developers a brilliant and shining example of what not to do. While you're running around fighting everyone, you will also notice that there is no mini map or objective marker anywhere on the screen. So ultimately what ends up happening is that you go looking for the next batch of guys to beat up because you realize that you haven't been in this part of the level before.

Now that we have established that the best way to navigate the levels is to go looking for fights, how does this latest TMNT game stack up when it comes to combat? When you factor in that this TMNT game is supposed to have a combat system similar to the new Batman games, you automatically you start to think, "**** YEAH, THIS IS THE NINJA TURTLES GAME I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR!" Then you play the game and realize that this combat system is lackluster at best and feels very distant to what was originally hyped up. You do have your attacks and counter moves, however the execution of these moves don't have the razor precision of a ninja sword, but more like the cumbersome force of a wrecking ball. Sure you can do online co-op with three other friends, but honestly, if your friends want to play co-op TMNT, there are much better games to play.

So far we have touched on how the overall gameplay mechanics make the game about as enjoyable as cliff diving in the desert, but if you thought all this misery was at an end, we're sorry to disrupt the years, the characters of TMNT have undergone some dramatic artistic changes that either have you in pure bliss, or uncompromising misery. This time around the characters are based off the new Nickelodeon cartoon show, or at least that is what's supposed to be the case. What we actually find in this latest TMNT game is more of a genetics experiment where the outcome isn't what you hoped it would be. Somehow Red Fly Studio managed to create a character that looks as though an elephant mated with a turtle to produce either an Elepurtle or a Turtlephant. A true genetics masterpiece, however, the end product reminds me of the "kill me" scene in Aliens. The comic style screens between levels and important moments do pay homage to the origin of TMNT, but outside of that, Out of the Shadows looks like it should go back and hide.

There are some factors though from the RPG realm and that is in the form of character upgrades. Instead of training for years to perfect your ninja form, just beat up enough people and earn experience to level up and gain a character point. Using these points will allow you to unlock new combos that you use and even upgrade your weapon. While this feature does the job, it would have been a nice to include more depth to it, as opposed to its very basic and minimal aspects. Even this small amount of ingenuity can't help the demise of this TMNT game. Oh and we almost forgot, this incredible steaming pile can be yours for the low price of $15. There are retail titles out there right now that cost less than $15 and give you a far better experience, furthermore, there are TMNT arcade games that are better and are cheaper as well. Why would anyone spend $15 on this disaster? Maybe that’s a long lost ninja secret.

Suggestions: A quick checklist for any future TMNT games:

1) Story - longer, more dramatic, meaningful.
2) Camera - not as twitchy and more refined.
3) Gameplay - simplify and perfect.
4) RPG system - give more substance and depth.
5) Artwork - look to the past to give solid ground.

Overall Score: 3.0 / 10 Grand Theft Auto V

The time has finally arrived. After over half a decade of waiting patiently we finally get to dive back into the virtual world of Grand Theft Auto, only this time Rockstar Games has set their sights on making the biggest and most in depth gaming experience of our lives, and you know what? They succeeded. Normally when games take over five years to produce, that prompts warning bells to go off as there isn't a great history with long development times equating to a top quality game. This is Rockstar though, and Grand Theft Auto V is like the back handed slap across the face of those who doubted and the kick in the junk to all those who said it couldn't be done. Quality over quantity is the theology with Rockstar and throughout this review you will see why Grand Theft Auto V is one of the best games available on the Xbox 360.

To kick things off, we have to talk about the environment. Historically speaking, Grand Theft Auto games always strive to provide a wide open sandbox world for you to explore. While Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was a mammoth place of exploration, gamers felt that GTA IV was a step back in the wrong direction because many felt that the world wasn't big enough and lacked the quality that the GTA games have been known for. Not this time though. The city that GTA V is based in is called Los Santos, and there's really only two words that can describe it, f***ing massive. Imagine a city set in the state of San Andreas and combine that with the area of another fantastic Rockstar game, Red Dead Redemption and put it all together, bring it all to life and there you have the setting for the biggest game Rockstar has ever made. With such an open playground at your disposal, Rockstar has gone to extensive lengths to provide plenty of diverse areas to explore. Areas such as ghetto development properties, industrial construction zones, vibrant downtown metropolitan areas, and even mountainous wilderness zones complete with mountain lions, deer and more are just some of the wide variety of territory that you can explore on your quest to rise to the top with your eyes on the prize.

Speaking of quests though, there are tons of them. Over five hundred (500) to be exact. Actions ranging from riding a gondola up the side of a mountain, to watching TV, going to see a movie, and other risqué adventures wait inside the world of GTA V. While there are a bunch of nonviolent, "PG" and "PG-13" style events to go through, such as playing Tennis, or walking your dog, Grand Theft Auto V wouldn't be what it is without a huge amount of "Adult" content. Strip clubs, prostitutes, drug labs, armored bank trucks and more abound throughout Los Santos and will offer you a chance to not only get paid but also gain character bonuses as well. It's this wide array of varying events that help bring the entire experience to life. When you also take into account all of the "random events" that take place that allow you to interact with other NPCs, there always seems to be something or someone to do, every time you pick up and play Grand Theft Auto V. All of these experiences though are not played through just one character, but a total of three (Franklin, Michael, and Trevor), and all these experiences differ between characters so in essence you have three different playable characters and each of them have their own "world" that they live in.

These characters are controlled via 3rd person perspective and what we've come to love and expect from a Grand Theft Auto game has been improved upon. Your cellphone is back and it's through this device where you get your quick save option, emails, text messages, contact lists, etc. While the controls of Grand Theft Auto allow you to do some amazing things, you can't help but wonder if Rockstar Games has gone a bit overboard with trying to fit too much onto just one Xbox 360 controller? Multiple buttons do different things depending on the situation and in order to access these "secondary" functions requires you to almost detach yourself from the gameplay to give the game time to load up and perform these other actions. Of course you can still do things like run, jump, swing your fits, shoot people, but actions like climbing for instance feels still a bit unpolished and yes there are times when the play control feels cumbersome and when this happens in a gun fight, good f***ing luck chuck. It almost feels as though Grand Theft Auto V would benefit from less complex controls and more streamlined ones instead. As each character has individual events, so is the case with the development of skills and attributes.

Stamina, strength and more are the types of character traits you can increase throughout the game by performing various deeds. For instance if you want your stamina to increase, then go for runs instead of driving. This will naturally build up over time and when further developed will allow you to sprint for much longer distances without getting winded. Each character also has a special ability such as slowing down time, increasing damage dealt and more and it's these special abilities that can turn the tide of war in your favor that is unless you forgot to bring a bigger gun to the fight.

Not to worry though, as sprawled throughout the massive city of Los Santos though are many stores that you can go to improve various items in your character's life. There are barber shops where you can change your hairstyle, auto repair businesses where you can not only repaint your vehicle, but upgrade it in many different aspects to create a truly unique and original ride, and even gun shops where you can purchase different types of weaponry, ammo, and upgrades as well. With so much customization available to the players, Grand Theft Auto V goes above and beyond anything that we have ever experienced before and that is thanks to a very in-depth character experience and expansive customization options. All of this adds to the overall beauty of GTA V which is eye popping gorgeous. Watching the sunset over the water as you climb high into the mountains is breathtaking and when you see the sun finally going down and the city turn on its lights, the whole downtown area looks like multi colored diamonds shining against a star filled night. Textures from the environment to the characters are done with such high attention to detail, you can really see the five years of development that were poured into this game. However, what is the fun of exploring all of this beauty if you don't have any tunes to listen to along the way? It's cool; Rockstar has you covered there as well.

Normally throughout the past GTA games we were limited to less than a handful of radio stations to listen to in our cars and each station had a very limited amount of songs to listen to. In Grand Theft Auto V however, Rockstar Games has put more effort than ever before into the sounds and soundtrack. With over 10 radio stations to choose from which range from country and electronic pop, to classic west coast rap and classic rock, Grand Theft Auto V sports over 200 licensed songs to listen to which range from Queen, Phil Collins, and Johnny Cash, to artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Too Short, and more. Just the soundtrack alone is enough to fill over 10 CD's and that is just the beginning. All throughout Los Santos you will hear conversations between various NPC's which always feel fresh instead of recycled so every time you explore the city you get a feeling that it's a brand new day, instead of listening to the same thing repeated from different characters. When you take into account all of this massive audio innovation combined with the main story script, what you have is one of the best sounding Xbox 360 games ever created.

Now as you're reading this you're probably going to have many friends that purchased this stellar title as well and because of that Rockstar games has put forth a hefty multiplayer system. Now you can join 15 other gamers in incredibly large 16 player activities. Jobs such as street racing and bank heists are just some of the things available as you get to venture around a duplicate setting of Los Santos. There are other gametypes as well to select from including Team Deathmatch but that is included in the competitive multiplayer which allows you to become part of a crew. This feature was also found on Max Payne 3 but now allows you to either create your own crew, or be a member of up to five other crews to compete competitively. If you do well and win your multiplayer sessions then you earn experience which allows your character to level up and improve their skills and abilities. One innovation that Rockstar included was to allow gamers to carry over their crews from the multiplayer mode of Max Payne 3 to Grand Theft Auto Online thanks to the synchronization of the Rockstar Games Social Club. This feature though will launch on October 1st, 2013 and will have full support from Rockstar going forward, so time to lock and load and prep for war!

Easily one of the most anticipated games of the past half-decade, Grand Theft Auto V provides a gaming experience that is second to none. Making a game that will keep you entertained for months and years to come is a challenge that many developers fail to overcome, but not Rockstar. They have poured blood, sweat, and tears into this game and it shows in every second and around every turn. The last Grand Theft Auto game set a Guinness World Record and make no mistake, Grand Theft Auto V is designed to smash the records and be one of the bestselling video games of all time. Did you manage to grab your copy on launch day? Don't say we didn't warn you if you decided to wait and can't find a copy available. With all the top quality content provided, Grand Theft Auto V is without question the new standard of excellence when it comes to sandbox game development. When you think brilliance, think Rockstar games. When you think quality, think Rockstar games. When you think of some of the biggest and greatest video game experiences available, think Rockstar Games.

Overall Score: 9.8 / 10 Payday 2

Have you ever heard the phrase "crime doesn't pay"? Well apparently no one at 505 games has heard of that when they created Payday 2. From the same company that brought you Brothers: A tale of two sons and Terraria comes a release where the goal is simple; commit crimes, shoot cops, and repeat the process over and over again. Payday 2 is about you taking control of one of four gang members and going through the city pulling off various criminal activities. These range from making and distributing narcotics, holding up banks, robbing jewelry stores and more. Priced at $39.99, 505 Games is trying hard to bring you deep into the criminal underworld. The only real question is does Payday 2 make off with your hard earned loot, or does it get nailed by the cops and hauled away to jail? Don your mask, load your guns, and get the engine started because our XboxAddict review starts right now.

The premise of Payday 2 is quite simple. An unknown person named Bain sends your crew out on various jobs to get paid and perform certain tasks. This is very simplistic; however, it's the execution of this entire game that brings whatever promise of a quality title, crashing through the skylight with the subtlety of a stick of dynamite. Being that Payday 2 is a first person shooter, we're positive that if we asked you what a good first person shooter game is, none of you would say Payday 2. This unfortunate situation is caused by a control scheme that tries hard but ends up being very clunky and unresponsive. We're sorry but how hard is it to come up with a responsive control layout? Call of Duty does it every year, and so does Battlefield and Halo, but does Payday 2 manage it? Absolutely not. It's especially sad when you factor in the computer controlled AI because they are about as useful as a blind seeing eye dog. They may take down a few law enforcement officers and even revive you from time to time, however, if you think you can take them into more elaborate missions, think again.

This forces you to take part in multiplayer, however, while there are some good sides to it, there's always the other side of the coin to contend with. Playing multiplayer allows you to combine and discuss strategy of the task at hand with other players. Using different skills and abilities (which we'll get into later) your goal is to try and scope the area to figure out the best way in and the best way out. This is truly the best way to play the game; however, like we said earlier, there is a flip side to the coin. Payday 2 offers up a great deal of randomness with each and every mission which means that guards may be in different places, doors may be opened that were once closed, security cameras may be installed in new locations, etc. This randomness means that your crew will constantly have to adapt their plans in order to have any success during the crime. This is especially difficult to do if you have random people in your game who aren't talking or just want to run in guns blazing.

Without a doubt the hardest thing to do in any criminal activity is to complete the job without the cops being called in. This holds very true in Payday 2 as being detected can be done just as easy outside your mark as inside. Simply putting on your mask outside and having a pedestrian watch you do this will arouse suspicion and then they will make a phone call to the police and even before you set foot inside, the cops are on their way. If that tends to be the case then you can find both solace and frustration with Payday 2. For instance, you can find walls that you can warp through but so can the cops. Another example of the flaws of the game is watching hostages or police sink through the floor only to pop up near you and unload a boat load of ammunition into you. While there are things you can do to try and hold off the oncoming assault, a lot of these bugs and glitches provide you with more and more frustration than enjoyment.

The bugs don't stop there however because graphically Payday 2 has more bugs than a roach motel. Walking around your environment will showcase a lot of the faults with Payday 2 in the graphics department. Walls will almost scan into place; you can witness cops and civilians walking on air, and more. These bugs would be tolerable if the outlying character models were more polished and looked better, but that's not the case here. It's been a long time since we've seen such a late stage game bring forth such watered down and weak graphics on the Xbox 360. The pain that Payday 2 suffers graphically can also be applied to the soundtrack as a one-two combination that knocks this game right on its heels. A very energetic but boring soundtrack, Payday 2 offers very little outside of hearing looped sounds play over and over and over again. We are so very thankful that the Xbox 360 allows for custom soundtracks during gameplay, and so will you.

There is though a bright spot in Payday 2 and that involves your different skill trees. Apparently you don't start out as a criminal bad@$$; however by leveling your character up in various skill trees allows you to upgrade your abilities and even unlock new items such as sentry guns, hacking tools, and more. While the upgrading character tree is a welcomed feature in Payday 2, the reward system at the end of each mission is not. If you were looking to acquire a new suppressor or accessory to a gun, (not your gun, but any gun) you have a 1 in 3 chance of obtaining something random. While this forces the replay value, it does make you wonder why would you want to keep playing this less than mediocre game just to obtain one weapon add on?

Ultimately in the end, Payday 2 tries hard to make a fun and enjoyable criminal experience; however, it is plagued with too many faults and bugs to make it worth the $39.99 price tag. On other platforms such as the PS3 and PC, Payday 2 has received some tlc to help improve the gameplay and fix some of these issues, however, the Xbox 360 version seems to have gotten the cold shoulder treatment. If you decide to pick this game up, and deal with all the glitches, bugs, imperfections, and frustrations, then go through the Xbox Live Games On Demand section as the asking price is $34.99. It can be said without question that the biggest crime of Payday 2 is trying to coax you to spend over $30. Instead of falling prey to this crime, why not wait a couple weeks, spends a few dollars more and enjoy a different crime game called Grand Theft Auto?

Suggestions: Here are a few short tips if there should ever be a Payday 3.

1) Improve gameplay mechanics so they feel responsive
2) Do away with the random loot choice at the end of missions.
3) Spend extra time polishing the game and removing bugs and glitches.
4) Improve AI so they actually have a use.
5) Improve the graphics and soundtrack as well.

Overall Score: 6.6 / 10 Diablo 3

For decades the Diablo games have been exclusive to the PC platform. This has always been a source of tension between gamers as those on their consoles felt neglected and ignored by Blizzard. Not any more though. Recently, Blizzard has finally granted the wishes and answered the prayers of millions of gamers around the globe by bringing Diablo 3 home to the Xbox 360.

Originally launched on the PC platform, Blizzard has had a challenging time trying to convert the game from keyboard and mouse to dual thumbstick controllers. The interface as well had to be adapted for console users, and all of this and more had to be polished and perfected if the transition were to be a success. So, has Blizzard vanquished the demons of hell back into their abyss, or has the challenge of converting an iconic PC game series proven to be the games own demise? The gate of hell hath opened once again, and hell hath no fury like Diablo 3.

While managing the plot was relatively an easy task to do, the entire gameplay mechanics of Diablo 3 were a much different story. Starting off Diablo 3 will allow you to play offline instead of requiring an always online connection, but that is just one grain of sand in a desert. To truly overcome this monumental obstacle, Blizzard has decided to do two things: 1) keep it simple, and 2) keep it streamlined.

This innovative thinking is the driving force behind the smooth user interface and allows for a perfect transition from PC to console gaming. To access your characters inventory, skills, and more all you need to do is press one button and a radial menu system pops up where you can designate what items you want to equip, what spells you wish to use, and more. Your gear is still ranked via different colors and effects, but with the simple press of the X button you can compare newly acquired pieces of gear and weapons to what you already have equipped. There is also an option where you can "auto equip" weapons and armor however, that becomes rather moot when you factor in the crafting of your own gear in this game.

There is also an inclusion from the PC called "Elective Mode" where you are able to map any power to any button so you can start to customize how you want to play the game. Using the left thumbstick to move, your right thumbstick plays the role of your dodge move where you can press it in eight different directions to avoid enemy attacks at will which helps you keep out of danger while maintaining your attacks and thanks to a lock on system, deliver them with pinpoint accuracy. It can be said that without a doubt Diablo 3 on the Xbox 360 provides one of the best game play mechanics we have seen on a console to date.

All of this talk about weapons, armor, and other gear is the result of Diablo 3's strong loot system. We discover that the gear that is dropped will be slightly more suited for your character, which may not be so good if you're looking for gear for a friend, but really good for your own character. To hold all this loot we are now given 60 item slots and with a more uniformed storage system, the focus shifts less towards the weight carried and instead on hunting for rare and more powerful loot.

When you manage to find some new gear it will appear as starred in your inventory and if the new item provides you with increased stats in any field, you will see up and down arrows indicating the increase or decrease of your character's stats based off that item. Even though you can go through Diablo 3 on your own, the real fun is when you get a group of people hell bent on vanquishing demons and collecting rare loot and that is thanks to the brilliant multiplayer system.

Diablo 3 on the Xbox 360 supports both two to four local co-op and two to four online co-op as well. So, now instead of your friends coming over all the time and eating all your food, drinking all your drinks, you can enjoy four player co-op from the solitude of your very own couch. If you do decide to have friends over, you will find that the screen is locked so that all four players are on the screen at the same time, and if someone should happen to venture off from the group, they are teleported back to where player one is located. This is essential to keeping the pace of the game moving forward. All of this multiplayer perfection is also easy to customize so creating a private, public, or party match can be done with tremendous ease. Diablo 3 for the Xbox 360 is a perfect example of how multiplayer should be done.

Even though Diablo 3 on the Xbox 360 is an amazing title, there is though one area where the PC world will always dominate, and that are the graphics. Now consenting that a PC rig will always dominate the console markets in the graphics field, the Xbox 360 does hold its own and only suffers based off of local co-op play. When you have four characters locally on one screen and the action heats up you can see a slight drop in frame rate, however, the game feels smooth as silk when you are online.

When running at 1080p, the lighting looks absolutely amazing and there are only a few hiccups in the graphics department, but when you are running at 30fps, your eyes will thank you. Thankfully this graphical adaptation also means that the haunting score of Diablo 3 makes another triumphant showcase. Not too many gamers will invest many hundreds of dollars in a sound system for their PC, however, if you have an Xbox 360 hooked up to your TV, then there's a good chance you either enjoy listening to your games via a high end headset or home theater system which ultimately is the way you want to hear Diablo 3.

When it comes to dungeon crawling, loot collecting, boss killing action, there are few titles that can stand up to the Diablo games. Blizzard though has gone above and beyond expectations to deliver a final product that will literally drain hundreds of hours of your life away. We said it before that Diablo 3 was one of the best gaming experiences found on the PC, and now we can say that Blizzard has produced one of the greatest gaming experiences found on the Xbox 360. The question isn't, "should I pick up and play Diablo 3?", instead the question is "what could possibly be the reason to ever stop playing?" Make no mistake, there's a special place in hell for those who pass on Diablo 3.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

In the video game world there are very few times when someone from another entertainment medium can bring together elements from outside the gaming world to produce something that will captivate audiences around the globe. Sure there are games that sell hundreds of millions of copies where you run around and shoot other people, but rarely does a game tap into the most powerful emotion we humans known to exist, love. Starbreeze Studios has worked alongside an award winning Swedish film director Josef Fares to bring you a tale of just how dark the path of unconditional love can be. This innovative tale is priced at 1200 MS points ($15) which is steep when it comes to an Xbox Live Arcade game, and 505 Games publishing it means that there isn't a pedigree of past quality games that will lead you to expect this to be a must have purchase. That our dear readers is where you would be terribly mistaken as Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons could easily be considered the best title 505 Games has ever published. How can we say that? Read on.

All video games on this planet try to do one thing and one thing only, make a connection to the player that will allow them to not only enjoy the game they are playing, but to also keep them coming back for more. Some games accomplish this by allowing you to shoot people hundreds of thousands of times in intense combat while others accomplish this by bringing you the most stunning graphics or breathtaking music. However, a very slight few actually accomplish this tremendous feat through the power of emotion. When we as gamers can relate on an emotional level in any degree, we become hooked on the game. Anger, love, frustration, bliss, and more are all emotions that all of us feel throughout our days and it's this emotional bond that makes Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons so powerful. Starting out by witnessing a catastrophic and unbelievably heart breaking event, you quickly realize that the darkness is not through with you yet. Now, united through this journey, these two brothers set off on a quest for salvation of their father and must rely on their love for their father and each other to see this quest through to the end.

Already the tone of the story is dark; however, it's through this feeling of love for your family that will forever triumph. From the very beginning you are now in control of both brothers. The older brother is controlled through the left thumbstick and the younger brother via the right. The control scheme doesn't stop the division there as the left trigger is the action button for the older brother and the right trigger is, yep you guessed it, the action button for the younger brother. The gameplay mechanics on the surface appear to be very straightforward and simplistic to use, however, you quickly become aware of just how clunky and clumsy controlling two separate characters at the same time can actually be. Finding yourself focusing on one brother while ignoring the other is very common and even though this innovative control layout, you get the feeling that you could do more if you had focused on one brother at a time and then switched between brothers as needed. This fault though is only magnified when you realize that each brother has an individual response to certain instances throughout the lands. The reason it falters more is due to the meaningless execution of these actions. There doesn't seem to feel any sort of "reward or punishment" system established thus creating a void of emotion in a game which is supposed to be focused on that particular thing. One time I took a ball from a little boy who was playing with it and threw it down a well causing the boy to continuously sob his heart out. Did I get punished for this in any way? Not one bit.

That’s not to say though you won't enjoy your quest from start to finish. Each area has some spectacular views that provide beauty at almost every turn. Striking mountains that climb high into the skies above, the rays of sunlight that strike through the clouds onto a watery pond, or even the darkness of night are perfect examples of why this game is a short but beautiful game. Even the musical score of the game dramatically shifts depending upon the upcoming moods. What was tranquil and peaceful can become eerie and dark as the mood shifts just as quickly in the game. There are a few issues though with the sound and that comes in the form of character dialogue. There isn't any. Instead you get Sims style gibberish and vague clues as to where you need to go and what you need to do. There isn't even an option to turn on subtitles, which we reckon is pointless given that there aren't any words to begin with. This is where Brothers could have done better even with just a box of text that could be scrolled through. This lack of spoken word could play a role in another fault with this game and that are the puzzles themselves.

Fairly simplistic would be the Disney term for it as you find yourself struggling to maintain control over both brothers. Increasingly frustrating rapidly becomes the growing trend which is why we believe the puzzles themselves are so simplistic. Trying to complete very complex and challenging puzzles while splitting your focus simultaneously is a quality not many gamers have. This is quite depressing actually as you feel that there is so much more that could be done had there been changes in the gameplay mechanics from the beginning. So while there are some good points and some bad ones as well, we haven't touched on the biggest blemish of them all. The complete absence of any form of multiplayer gameplay.

When you base a game where you control more than one person at the same time, the simple act of having someone else play in your game with you becomes sort of paramount. There have been plenty of blockbuster titles and even budget games that have managed this idea with great success, but sadly not in this game. With so much potential and influence to draw upon, who in their right mind thought that the way to go was to make a game where you have two main characters, yet no one can play with you?

Overall 505 Games has a hit on their hands with Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons, however, not a masterpiece. While 1200 MS points is very pricey for an Xbox Live Arcade game, Brothers has too many faults to warrant a pickup at that price. Yes the game does offer some innovative features, but ultimately the faults hold this game back from becoming something astounding. If the game goes on sale for say, 800 MS points, then sure pick it up. However, for a short game that has many faults at its core, it's better for you to save your 1200 MS points ($15) for something else.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Mars: War Logs

During the summer months, many gamers find that the "drought" of quality retail titles allows for surprise quality titles on the Xbox Live Arcade. MARS: War Logs is one such title that aims to separate you from your 1200 MS points ($15) and provide a fantastic RPG experience. Developed by Spider Studios and published by Focus Home Interactive, MARS: War Logs tells the tale of a man who is a prisoner in a POW camp named Roy. Roy's story is mostly a mystery at first but he befriends another inmate who became a recent resident named Innocence Smith. So now that we have the beginning established, let's peel back more layers of this game and see if this game truly warrants the $15 (1200 MS price point).

MARS: War Logs' story tries to deliver a top quality RPG story with elements and ingredients of character development and morality scattered throughout and a dash of combat skills to bring gamers around the globe a truly amazing experience. On the surface this game has all the right ingredients, sadly though the execution is one of a sous chef instead of a master chef. For starters the story of MARS: War Logs attempts to be detailed with a morality angle embedded within, however as you progress through the story you will find multiple faults. There seems to be little to no emotional build of the characters and other NPCs so where the story should seem meaningful, it unfortunately though ends up being very watered down, thin, and lifeless. There are moments of what could be considered emotional investments, but those moments are few and far between and when they finally arrive, you have already trudged through a very dull story with no emotional stake in what happens next.

Along with the transparent thin story is the inclusion of morality. Certain actions and responses in dialogues will either increase or decrease your reputation. If this aspect sounds familiar you probably have experienced this already in games such as Fallout and more. The difference here is that morality is somewhat nonexistent in the game itself. It's entirely possible to kill multiple people and not have any damage done to your "reputation", thus making you wonder, why would this be included at all? Sure there are character bonuses that come with different reputation levels but the pointlessness of having to work with a broken system leaves you with a sense of irritability. If the main story lacked any soul at all, the side quests as well offer very little outside of something to do to kill a few hours out of your life. This is a major disappointment because there are several successful titles that utilize these factors into a fantastic gaming adventure of your own control, and it appears that none of them were used for any sort of inspiration when this game was being made. Is it really that difficult? It's like trying to reinvent the wheel by making it square.

Things go from bad to worse when it comes to MARS: War Logs. Given that RPG titles strive to be lengthy in content, to give tremendous value for dollar to the gamers, the control layout of the game becomes critical because honestly, who wants to play a game for 30-80+ hours with horrendous gaming mechanics? Apparently Spider Studios does want exactly that. While the 3rd person maneuverability is good, the camera system isn't. Yes another game has fallen victim to the dreaded camera bug. This becomes increasingly annoying when you manage to get into combat, which by the way happens a lot. Combat in this game gives you two options.

1) Use a free camera to maneuver through the fight and focus on multiple enemies.

Or

2) Use the lock on feature and keep the screen locked on one particular enemy and thus narrowing your field of view?

Now here is where it gets really bad. If you decide to use the free camera system you will find it is very clunky and will ultimately become your primary focus instead of the fight itself. If you decide to lock onto an enemy you will often find yourself getting the back of your skull bashed out by an enemy you didn't see because they were attacking behind you. With other top tier 3rd person RPG games managing this problem, we find ourselves shaking our heads wondering just what they were thinking when they looked at this broken pile, gave it the thumbs up and said "yes this is what we want to release".

Given that this game is supposedly set on the planet Mars, get ready to become a fan of the color red. Every shade, every tone, and even some of the blacks in the game, are really (we suspect) even darker shades of red as well. There are structures as well, but the metal has tints of what color? Yup, red. This tends to make the game incredibly boring to watch and even when you find observation points, the scenery seems to all blur together into something similar around every corner and through every door. With very little variety, don't expect vast and varying lands to explore, instead tons of red rocks, red ground, red sun, and more red everything else. The funny thing is that normally when a game is taking this much of a beating it tries hard to pull something back to make a big impact and normally that would be in the audio department. This is completely untrue for this game as well. The voice acting is good in some very rare points, but ultimately horrible in almost every other instance. Nothing breathtaking either when it comes to sound effects, or the soundtrack for that matter. It's a shame to because now it seems like the game has given up and is just waiting to be put out of its misery. Let's give them what they want.

When you think of what you can buy today for $15 you want value for dollar. Buying a Fallout game for $9.99 is a deal because you know you'll get a fantastic experience that will last for well over 80+ hours and deliver a top quality product. For $15 Spider Studios is giving you poor control layout with a God awful combat system, a short and meaningless story with mundane side quests that serve little to no purpose, graphics and sound that feel like a step backwards and very unpolished, and an overall dirty feeling that you have just been violated through your wallet. There are other aspects such as character development and item crafting, but those are also so underdeveloped that it really doesn't bear any weight to help the game climb out of the grave. R.I.P. MARS: War Logs, we will be saving our $15.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Remember Me

When you think of every person on earth, each of us has an individual fingerprint, each of us has individual eyes, and each of us has individual memories. How we perceive events throughout our lives is as singular as our fingerprints. But now in Neo-Paris in the near future, these memories of ours have become digitized. While on the outside you bear witness to the elderly reliving some of their most cherished moments in time; families reminiscing about births of children, graduations, and more. “Wonderful moments which can be recalled upon demand and digitally fed into our minds to enjoy” is the line we are fed, however not all memories are nice ones and on the surface everything may look enticing, but underneath is another story all together.

The memories of some of the most powerful and influential people on earth would be all that is needed to shift global power in favor of one who combines this knowledge with their own. Welcome to Neo-Paris and the futuristic world of Remember Me.

In an iconic setting of the wealthy vs. poor, you see the upper-class seemingly brainwashed into mindlessly supporting this false utopia while those who have lost everything become ghoulish memory hunting creatures that were deemed unworthy to live above and therefore cast down into the sewers and surrounding areas outside of Neo-Paris.

In the beginning we find Nilin (who apparently is the best memory hunter in the world) fighting for her life during a memory format procedure, and it's through this struggle that we learn more of her past and thus why she was there to begin with. The overall story of Remember Me is one that will bring enjoyment but the main innovation that sets this game apart are the memory remixes. This feature will allow you to enter a target's mind and not only relive the memory as it originally is, but rewind and most importantly, alter the memory to produce different outcomes. This is not only the source of a great strength but great weakness as you realize that these moments do not happen nearly enough and while they are brilliant moments to go through, they just don't happen enough which gets you punched in the stomach because now you have to contend with another big problem of Remember Me and that are the controls.

When you maneuver your way through Neo-Paris and the slums below, the gameplay (which includes camera controls) are not the best in the world and often will cause more stress and confusion than simplicity and effectiveness. Wandering across ledges, pipes, and other climbable elements is very responsive, fluid and easy to use. If you find yourself on the ground however, and in combat, then you come face to face with the combat system and when combined with the gameplay brings the entire game down. Remember Me does allow you to customize your combos to produce different bonus results with each individual strike, and this is achieved through what are known as Pressens.

There are four Pressen categories: Damage, Regeneration, Recharge, and a multiplier. Each Pressen category has multiple X and Y buttons which are unlocked and placed within the combos and the further into the combo a Pressen is placed, the more impact that Pressen provides. As you go through combat Nilin will naturally level up allowing you to unlock more Pressens and even longer combinations to either create more damage or heal large chunks of health right in the middle of battle. While this provides some interaction into what could be characterized is a very simplistic combat system, there are games, such as Batman Arkham City, that provide identical combat but on a more polished level. This lack in the combat system weighs heavy against it considering most of the time you are pressing the X or Y button and occasionally the A button.

Nilin not only remembers more Pressens and combinations as she levels up through the game, but she also remembers the very powerful S-Pressens. When Nilin breaks into this form her true potential is unlocked and depending on what S-Pressen you select, incredibly powerful, yet very temporary bonuses are granted to Nilin. Powers such as enhanced strength and uncovering the invisible are just a couple of these amazing powers at Nilin's disposal. There is one item though that makes Nilin a force to be reckoned with and that is her gauntlet. It's through this tool that Nilin gains the ability to hunt and remix memories and also interact with her environment as well. This gauntlet can be upgraded to interact with items such as locks, electrical switches, and can even destroy weak structural areas. While this aspect does make the game more enjoyable, it's almost too little too late.

Even though there are gameplay issues that hinder Remember Me, there are some beautiful areas of Neo-Paris that are truly a sight to behold. Remember Me does a great job showcasing the differences between the "haves" and the "have not’s" and even though the character modeling is somewhat good, the scenery around you is better. The only major graphic downfall of Remember Me is the fact that most of the time the levels feel very linear and only seem to push you into an open environment where either a boss fight occurs or a mob of enemy Leapers. There really isn't much in terms of exploration or interaction and that's a pity because this world has so much to offer. This graphic prowess is complimented by a surprisingly good soundtrack that offers climactic scores of sweeping orchestral music during intense moments of combat and drama and peaceful and tranquil harmonies while you are exploring what you are able to of this future society.

Remember Me is a game that had the potential to be incredible but ended up being marginally good instead. There are some amazing moments that will bring smiles to your face, the amount of negatives and inconsistencies hit far too hard and far too often. While the story and premise of Remember Me is generally good, it's sad to say, but if there were a more precise and polished combat system that we find in other games out there, then that would go a long way to improving the quality of Remember me. Ultimately is Remember Me worth a day one $60 price point? Unfortunately no. Is Remember Me worth an improved upon sequel? Without a doubt. Hopefully Dontnod has learned from this release and take feedback back to the drawing board and create an improved Remember Me 2. If that does happen, it will truly be a game to remember.

Suggestions: Please improve upon the gameplay mechanics (which include combat and camera controls) and you will be well on your way to a great sequel.

Overall Score: 7.2 / 10 Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

When you think of settings that would make a great video game, one of the time periods that always find its way near the top is the old west. Days of stagecoach robbing, horse riding, gun dueling, bank robbing and more all provide our imaginations a taste of what life would actually be like in the Wild West. Like a classic western showdown, there have been games that hit their target with pinpoint precision and those who have missed so wildly that their demise isn't a question of "if" but "when". Now enter Techland who has been responsible for the western franchise Call of Juarez. This series has had a rocky history from the beginning but if Call of Juarez wasn't playing second fiddle to Red Dead Redemption, it was pushing up daises with their most recent retail release Call of Juarez: The Cartel. Seeing this backward trend starting to form, Techland very wisely decided to take gamers back to the roots of the series by releasing Call of Juarez: Gunslinger on the Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 MSP ($15). So does this new fps western game dominate the Wild West and ride off into the sunset in a blaze of glory, or does it loose its grip on its gun and get mowed down into a grave of mediocrity? Grab your spurs because it's time to find out.

One of the key features in any Wild West game that must hit its mark is the story behind it. Stories of this day and age are filled with legendary tales of mammoth gun battles, wild fist throwing brawls, rebel gangs without a care, and the iron clad lawmen who rule with compassion but enforce with an iron fist. With such a wealth of storytelling at its fingertips Techland has done a great job with Call of Juarez: Gunslinger by delivering a classic old west feel with a hefty amount of classic western celebrity name drops. The story begins with your character Silas Greaves who begins to recount his tales at a saloon to a troop of young'uns who are enthralled by witnessing a legend of the west right before their eyes. This method of storytelling fits perfectly as the backdrop for the various levels you will play through and when you take into account names like Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Pat Garrett and so on, you know that whatever happens, this is going to be one entertaining ride.

As you progress through the numerous levels you will notice that as Silas' years have grown, his memory has been drowned in the bottom of the glass and details remain a bit 'fuzzy'. During these tales you may experience things such as barns materializing out of thin air, bodies dropping out of the sky, trees magically appearing in different colors and so on. This is the game's way of having you experience Silas' stories while adhering to the idea that, like today, people still exaggerated their stories even back in the Wild West. It's times like this when you go from experiencing a few stagecoach robbing bandits to what Silas would call an army of hostile savages with nothing but bloodshed on their minds. While these changes in recollection do tend to slow the pace of the game down at points, it does help you realize that this isn't some Discovery channel biographical portrayal of characters in the wild west, but more of a comical and entertaining story told by an old drunken bad a$$ bounty hunter who has rode with the best and fought the worst.

While you are going through the story Silas will have the opportunity to utilize a varying amount of weapons. Weapons such as ranger pistols, quick draw pistols, sawed off shotguns, long range rifles and even dynamite can be used to unleash the cold steel justice of the west. Being that this is a western fps game, it does go without saying that the levels are fairly linear and when you get the stones to try and wander off, the game gives you a pop up menu warning you that you're breaking off from the story, and if you push it, the game will actually reset you to where you started, thus forcing you to stay on the predetermined path and kill everything on it. There were moments, especially when switching out weapons that are on the ground, where the control scheme doesn't feel as refined and ends up feeling clunky and somewhat unresponsive. This was felt the most in the dueling sections because the aiming circle which you have to line up moves very, very sluggishly and even after you have stopped moving the control stick, the aiming circle continues to move on. This is incredibly frustrating given the fact that your opponent moves both left and right before the draw. When you have less than a second, making sure you're able to hit your target becomes a matter of life and death and when you have a sluggish and unreliable aiming procedure to go through, things can go very, very wrong, very, very fast.

That being said though, the majority of the joy will come when you level up your character and you get the ability to upgrade your stats, learn new abilities, unlock improved weaponry, and eventually become a dominating legend of the old west. If throwing one stick of dynamite doesn't bring a smile to your face, then upgrade the ability and not only can you shoot it out of the air, but you can also split the stick into three parts with your bullets to increase the damage radius and overall lethality.

These gameplay mechanics makes the story sequence of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger a very fun experience, but where the replayability of the game takes shape is in the arcade mode. Think of this mode as going through multiple timed levels where you have to go from point A to point B and kill everything in your path. There is no story to worry about here, the only thing you should be concerned with is creating the largest kill combo streak you can. Taking your time to pick off individual enemies won't net you the coveted three star rating; however, rushing into the fray with guns smoking from the fire will grant you the much needed points. This is where the bulk of your time after the story will be spent as you look for new ways to string larger kill combos and ultimately become the fastest gun in the west. Speaking of that, Gunslinger's weakest mode, by a mile, is the Duel mode. In here you will be able to relive all the classic duels from the single player story and, just like the ones in the story, they will be over in a blink of an eye. The short and sweet of Duel mode is that it's there if you want to practice and perfect your dueling, but outside of that, serves no relevant purpose what so ever.

Even though there may be a few blemishes in the game, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger does pull it off in a beautiful Borderlands-esque, cell shading style that makes the environments around you not only detailed but stunning to behold. Rays of sunlight creeping over the crest of a mountain, cascading through the tall trees and casting shadows all around is just a taste of the visual eye candy that blankets all facets of this game. The same can also be said thankfully for the soundtrack and sounds of Gunslinger. Classic gun sounds blend perfectly with iconic western music to give you a feel that you have immersed yourself back into the year 1910 and go a long way to secure Call of Juarez: Gunslinger as a great western arcade game.

So ultimately has Techland produced a game that delivers an incredible and defining example of quality western video games? Sadly, no. Have they produced a game that blends beautiful linear levels with classic first person shooting action and a fantastic storyline? Undoubtedly yes. While Call of Juarez: Gunslinger won't be a groundbreaking western game, if you think of it in terms of Call of Duty meets Red Dead Redemption, the enjoyment factor is absolutely immense. Priced at 1200 MS points ($15) Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a must have for any western fan, or for any fan of great storytelling and enjoyable games.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Dead Island: Riptide

Would you pay full retail price for what could arguably be considered a massive DLC pack from an already released title? Apparently Deep Silver and Techland think you will. Before we begin hacking our way through Dead Island Riptide, we have to forewarn that the game that was released promised much in the beginning, but then in the end became like an old marriage, where there are many faults, yet you still find enjoyment after all this time. If you approach this game as a direct sequel to the original Dead Island and with a bunch of new innovations that breathe life back into the undead, think again. Does Dead Island Riptide survive the outbreak, or does it succumb to the mindless cannibalism of the undead? Let's find out.

For those who have missed out on the original Dead Island, Riptide offers up a gory, survival horror game with various RPG elements scattered about to give what would normally be a very shallow game, some much needed depth. This recipe gives a great foundation for a good game and with the proper execution will deliver a fantastic game. What apparently got missed by the people at Techland is the whole "proper execution" part because Dead Island Riptide suffers from the same faults as the original and adds a lot more to the mix. You would think that the whole idea of a sequel was to improve upon the faults from before so they no longer exist and develop new ways to improve the enjoyment of gameplay from the first to the second game. Unfortunately though, you would be mistaken.

To say the story of Dead Island was less than stellar would be a gentle way of putting it, and the main reason for that are the shallow plot development and the speed of the story itself. In Dead Island Riptide, not only are the plot holes bigger in size with less development, but the story plods along at a snail's pace. Granted the whole premise of Dead Island Riptide is to explore a vast, beautiful island so technically you could pour many hours into exploration before starting off on the main quest, but in the end, you just can't escape the thin veil of what is supposed to pass for a plot. The story begins right when the original game ends and the original immune survivors think they find refuge aboard a naval aircraft carrier, but instead they are now joined by a new character that also appears to be immune to the viral outbreak. During this time on board you are greeted by a man named Serpo who would be considered your initial cliché corporate bad guy and with clouded intentions. An incident occurs aboard the ship and you end up wrecking onto the island of Palanai and now the stage is set for another round of gory zombie killing in paradise, Jimmy Buffet be dammed.

While the premise of the story offers potential, the execution and delivery of the story offer very little in terms of support. This is disappointing given that lessons should have been learned from the original release. This is when the shroud of promises begins to lift and you realize that there's more that went unaltered or even worse, gone backwards. Speaking of which that’s a great way to introduce another, glaring problem, with Dead Island Riptide, and that is the gameplay. Normally for a first person perspective you want controls to be tight, responsive, and most importantly fluid, however none of that is in this game. Instead you are treated to a very clunky, sluggish, floaty, unresponsive control scheme that makes you feel like you are moving by using the force rather than your analog sticks. It almost feels as though the game is second guessing what you want to do. If you are trying to maneuver throughout pathways, or open beaches, it doesn't matter to Dead Island Riptide because the control system almost pauses to think about what you want to do, and then ask you the question "are you sure?" After that is says ok, and allows your character to move, and when you find yourself surrounded by a hungry masses of the undead, the last thing you want is to have your movement compromised in any way, and unfortunately, it is.

Sadly though, this isn't the end of the beating this game is going to take, only this time, the beating comes at the behalf of Dead Island Riptide's greatest strength, the graphics. On the surface the game offers a beautiful rendition of what paradise could actually look like. Amazing lighting effects coming through the lush jungle trees, casting moving individual shadows that coincide with the ever changing environment provide amazing backdrops that you will find yourself pausing to admire the beauty around you. There's more good news as well with the graphics because every gory detail still looks amazing now as it did in the original Dead Island so decapitating numerous zombies never gets old. So you may be wondering what problems exist with the graphics? Well, the fact is that all of this beauty is great, until movement is introduced to the picture. Once that happens all the visual beauty and breathtaking landscapes comes to a crashing halt when the screen not only tears greatly, but slows to a jerky halt and almost will cause the game to crash. Right from the beginning when we had to get off the boat and onto the island, one enemy we killed in the water apparently produced so much lag that the game itself froze for over 10 seconds which caused more enemies to bombard us and with no response to controls, we took a serious beating. This problem though does exist all throughout the game in varying forms of intensity and degree, but most importantly, it never, ever, ever, ever, goes completely away.

With all the beating that Dead Island Riptide has already received, you start to think that Dead Island Riptide is a lost cause, but thanks to the RPG elements you will find yourself loosing hours upon hours of your life as you level up your character to the new level cap of 70. There are other positive notes as well. You have the ability to import your previous Dead Island character into Riptide so your character progression will pick up right where you left it. Fear not though, if you haven't played the original Dead Island because right from the beginning you are catapulted to level 15 and immediately have skill points you can spend on leveling up your character. This feature also bodes well when playing multiplayer because let's say you have a level 55 character but your friend you're playing with is at level 18. The enemies that your friend faces will scale to his level in his game, while the enemies you face will scale to your higher level. This prevents a really strong player from joining and completely overrunning all enemies in their path and creates a balanced challenge that rapidly becomes Riptide's saving grace.

This aspect that we just mentioned is where the core of any amount of goodness can be found within the game. You will find yourself traversing through the island over and over again, even after you beat the game, just trying to level up your character, improve your skills, looting numerous caves, houses, and more, and construct and develop new and brutally lethal weapons. When you tie in the seamless drop in and out aspect of multiplayer that we witnessed before you produce a game that removes a lot of the boredom and tediousness of the game and instead replaces it with a symmetrical balance of action, survival horror, and RPG elements.

Now that we have had our ray of sunshine amidst the nightmare, it's time to come back to reality. Already heralded as a sequel here is a list of what you actually get in terms of new content in Dead Island Riptide:

1) One new character - yup just one new playable character. This feature is normally found on DLC yet apparently is a reason to buy a retail title.

2) New vehicles - so the next big thing is new vehicles to control? Why isn't this DLC? Nothing awe inspiring here.

3) New level cap and weather conditions - Borderlands 2 raised the level cap on their game through DLC for a fraction of a price, but apparently the "new weather conditions" seem to one-up that fact and should be regarded as a reason to purchase a new retail title. Yeah right.

4) Evolved Multiplayer - the saving grace of Dead Island Riptide and as mentioned earlier will be the cause of you loosing mythical hours of sleep.

5) Weapon Proficiency - New RPG elements that allow you to grow in various forms of decapitation and body mutilation. You would naturally think that the more you shoot a gun or wield a melee weapon the more efficient you would be with said weapons.

6) Hub Defense Game Mechanics - While this new addition does add a slight amount of new enjoyment, it pales in comparison to the monumental faults already found in Dead Island Riptide.

So after all of this Deep Silver and Techland think that this warrants a new retail game purchase instead of just releasing this new content as episodic DLC. Sure there are new enemies to contend with which is slight breath of fresh undead air, but you get the sense that the people at Techland were more concerned with generating new enemies than fixing any of the previous faults that you can find blazing throughout the game. There are new vehicles though. We can't seem to comprehend why a company would think that following this path is not only productive, but profitable given that the potential to be a staple in the zombie survival horror genre. There is one new character though. While you will find yourself lost amongst the RPG elements, you will also find yourself struggling to get past the flaws and in the end, will only play this game for short periods of time. If you want a good first person experience where you can kill lots of zombies, look elsewhere. If you want a game that provides a DLC worth of content at retail price that is plagued with numerous faults, we give you Dead Island Riptide.

Suggestions: Improve the gameplay so that it feels more responsive, fluid, and direct. If you're going to do a retail title, then offer the wealth of content found on a new game. Dead Island Riptide feels like everything we do on this new island, we could have done on the last one. Fix issues that have plagued this series since the original title and that still arise today in this current release. Learn from this and improve the series, or just let it die. Whatever you do, do not release content that could be considered DLC as a separate retail game with retail price as the gaming world will see this as a sign of being taken advantage of and not be pleased.

Overall Score: 5.5 / 10 Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons

Revenge is a motive that can poison a soul and ultimately leave one worse off than before. This emotion is the backbone of one of the most iconic sequels in video games, Double Dragon II. The original Double Dragon starred two brothers, Jimmy and Billy Lee who were on a quest to rescue Billy's girlfriend Marian who had been kidnapped by the Shadow Warrior gang and their leader Willy. Seeking payback for losing the girl, the stage is set for this sequel as in the opening moments you bear witness to Marian's ultimate fate at what appears to be the Shadow Warriors attempting to have their revenge on the Lee brothers. While normally opening up with such a revelation is a bad thing, in this case you will thank us for doing so because that is ultimately the best part of the game. What was expected was a successful adaptation from classic and iconic retro gaming into current gen gaming bliss with eye popping graphics, intense music, and fluid gameplay that keeps you hooked for hours. Sadly you find none of this in this 800MS point game. Now before you rage off in disbelief, let us tell you why this is quite possibly one of the worst games available on the Xbox Live Arcade.

What was mentioned in the story above is pretty much the entire plot of the game, so any attempt to extract some form of meaningful information down the road is pointless given that this game is plagued with so many faults that you may not even want to finish the game. With that being said, let us explain in further detail. When you have a side scrolling action game it is without question and absolutely critical to have a fluid and responsive control scheme. Now in Double Dragon II what you find could easily be described as one of the most frustrating and anger inducing control scheme ever invented. You have just as much success and fun trying to play the game with your feet while blindfolded. This pathetic attempt is incredibly sad when you think that games back in the 16 bit era could somehow manage phenomenal side scrolling action games. It gets even sadder when you consider how this iconic series started back in the arcades and was such a monumental success.

If you thought that was the last of the abysmal faults of gameplay, sadly you're very mistaken. The core to the whole side scrolling action gameplay rests in the combat of the game itself, and we're sorry to say that Double Dragon II provides arguably one of the worst combat systems ever to be found on a console, arcade, or planet earth, you get the idea. It's not complex by any means. You have a punch combo or a kick combo and if you want to try and perform a more powerful move, then hold down the RT. Holding RT apparently creates this sort of super special power move, which ultimately is just the same move in slow motion and with no apparent dramatic benefit, thus making this move completely worthless. This combat system is tied hand in hand with the monumentally idiotic stamina system. Think of this system as a rechargeable bank of energy that allows you to pull off combos, sort of super moves, provided you have the amount of stamina to pull it off. What this means is that in the middle of a fight of, let's say three, enemies you may run out of stamina and the next thing you know you're getting banged from all sides in a nightmarish way.

It's not like you're without any form of defense though because if you hold LT you can perform a block which if timed right to the opponents attack will create what’s called a Perfect Guard that in theory will open up your enemy to a counter attack. While this may prove to be an opening for an attack, performing a Perfect Guard will also drain stamina, so if you do perform a Perfect Guard then your opportunity to perform a counter combo is dashed because you already have lost stamina by not throwing any sort of blow. When this stamina runs out it needs to recharge and thus opens you up to attacks from multiple enemies and multiple sides without any hope of recovery and the only outcome is your demise. If you can sit and play through Double Dragon II then you have the forgiveness, and patience of the Pope.

While yes the graphics do look a lot better than what we have seen in the 16bit era, or on the arcades, that doesn't really boost Double Dragon II's credibility. You could have golden 3D dragons flying out of the screen, and massive explosions going on all around you with scantily clad women draped everywhere and none of that would matter because you still have such a phenomenal steaming pile in your hands. Now that we have touched on the only good part of Double Dragon II, we thought it would be nice to come back to reality and deal with the issue of no online multiplayer. This is a game where the fun rests in going through missions with a friend, and while there is local co-op support, there is nothing outside of leaderboard support for the game's online capabilities. We find this appalling given the fact that the next generation console is rumored to be months away and thousands of titles with some from over half a decade ago providing fantastic online multiplayer support. This is completely inexcusable and yet another blow below Double Dragon's belt.

While we could go on about other issues such as the voice in the training area not saying the words indicated by the subtitles, the dumbed down computer AI, or the pathetic attempt to recreate some of the iconic music from yesteryear, but we won't. In fact there's nothing else to say really except that there is no logical reason on this planet, or in any physical plane of existence that would justify the reasoning of why you would ever consider not just playing, but purchasing this thunderous showcase of pure gaming trash. There are two words that describe what developer Gravity and publisher Cyberfront Korea Corporation have done to Double Dragon II by pricing it at 800MS points, blatant robbery. Please heed our warning dear gamers. This game needs to be avoided at all costs as cherished memories from the past will forever be bastardized with irrevocable and unrelenting pain and torment.

Suggestions: May the failures of this game give you the knowledge of what not to do in the future.

Overall Score: 1.8 / 10 Poker Night 2

Well helloooooooooooooooo gamers! It's your favorite cyber ninja, secret spy, international ladies’ man, Claptrap here to tell you about this new Xbox Live Arcade game from Telltale games called Poker Night 2! Apparently they needed some real star power to help sell this game which is why they called me! It only fits right? I mean I'm the one with a Spike VGA award for best character, so naturally my agent has been busy with so many offers for appearances and tire signings that now it's time to kick back, relax, and win a @#$% load of money! Now minion, in case you didn't know, Poker Night 2 is a sequel to the original Poker Night, hence the "2" part, but now instead of taunting virtual characters till they wallow in their own tears of fear and failure, you can actually win items for Borderlands 2 as well as items for your avatar! There's so much more to talk about minion, so for that, let’s kick this review off with.... another paragraph! AH HA!

Welcome minion to the Inventory! It's here where we find the most sadistic, confusing, and hilarious poker game ever to be found..... well, ever I guess. The field for this game is more hardcore than Moxxi and consists of this quiet, arrogant lone hero type guy named Ash Williams. Really? A guy named "Ash" gets his own video game called The Evil Dead? Seriously, were all the Christies taken? Any who, there's another guy named Brock Samson, who is built like a house but is dumb as a rock. He comes from a video game called The Venture Brothers, but I personally think that he holds a secret deep down inside that only booze can drag out of him! Then after what you call "normal" people, we have a giant dog wearing a suit named Sam who has this weird companion named Max who is mentally unbalanced, hungry, and armed to the teeth, all eight of them. This pair apparently stem from a series of games called.... wait for it... Sam and Max! These are going to be your opponents at the table minion and while there's nothing you can do about it, we've called in a special dealer just for you! May I present the one.... the only... GLaDOS! Now this is what I'm talking about! A robot fascinated by death and dismemberment, I'm all in, all in love! Psssstttt.... Don't tell Moxxi that. Speaking of Moxxi, we couldn't have a poker game without a bunch of intoxicating alcohol right? And guess who was looking for a group tip? Why the top heavy Moxxi of course! That’s right minion, all you need to do is flash a little cash and she'll get right to work serving you and all your friends! The real beauty here minion is that the dialogue between characters is so well written, it's only a matter of time before we win a Pulitzer Prize for our witty banter!

This time around minion we'll be playing two different styles of poker. First style on the table is No Limit Texas Hold'em. If you don't know your way around the felt its cool, here's a crash course. You start with two cards in your hand called hole cards. A round of betting starts, then three cards are dealt face up which is called the flop, and then another round of betting happens. After that a fourth card called the Turn is dealt and another round of betting happens. Finally the last card called The River is dealt and this is where dreams can turn into horrific nightmares that haunt generations of your kin! All you have to do is make the best possible five card hand and hope that it beats your opponents, and if it does, you win fame, glory, and riches for a lifetime, or until the next tournament starts. If you lose though, your friends will laugh and point at you, women will shun you and your family will probably disown you due to shame. There's another mode of poker though called Omaha which is almost identical to Texas Hold'em except you get four starting cards instead of just two. Like the old saying goes, double your pleasure, double your fun!

Now we couldn't just pile all these great characters together, drown them in booze, tears, and laughter and not expect to win anything right? Well since we're on the Xbox Live Arcade, there are some amazing prizes to win such as your very own Aperture Test Chamber or even Bloodwing from Borderlands 2! While having a massive bird for your avatar pet is nice, it's nothing compared to the gear you can win for Borderlands 2! We're talking fun loving, cross dressing excitement here! Zero apparently is very fond of Portal hence the reason he's dressed all cosplay like in a nice Portal helmet complete with a scary red eye thingy! There are even more prizes to win minion! Not only is all this content up for grabs, but each of us has a special reward you can win by first completing your challenges and then winning the tournament! Ash is offering up the Necronomicon which is just a dirty old book, but I am offering up my Spike VGA award! With all these new amazing super friends and jaw dropping prizes minion you'll quickly forget about your old friends who are less amazing than we are and for that reason we decided to have no multiplayer support what so ever!

So there you have it minion! Think you have the stones to throw stacks of money around and gamble your way to glory and greatness with the likes of all of us? Then throw down your 800 MS points and ante up! Fair warning though, we won't take it easy on you just because you bought our games and worship us silently in your room so be ready for the fight of your life! Who knows what will happen minion, but like Moxxi said to me last night, if you want to win sugar, you have to go all in. Welcome minion to Poker Night 2 on the Xbox Live Arcade! Heyooooo! Oh Steve says hi too.

Suggestions: Please work in multiplayer support with avatar importing.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Sacred Citadel

From the title of this Xbox Live Arcade game alone your mind wanders and reminisces about the last Sacred game on the Xbox 360, Sacred 2. For those who haven't had the chance to enjoy Sacred 2, you are missing out on a fantastic, dungeon crawling, sandbox action RPG game. Inside Sacred 2 you will have six different characters to choose from with their own unique mounts to ride and with each of these characters you can chose to be light or dark. Being that it's a dungeon crawling, action rpg game you will find yourself neck deep in a sea of amazing weapons, armor, and loot and will draw you back for hours and weeks and months on end looking for better gear. With this, Sacred 2 packs a tremendous amount of character customization and when you factor in the different modifiers, the number of customization options seems limitless. The reason we just told you a very brief synopsis of Sacred 2 is because you will find almost none of this in the latest Xbox Live Arcade game, Sacred Citadel. 1200 MS points is a lot to ask for when it comes to arcade games, and with other heavy hitters in the genre such as Torchlight, will Sacred Citadel rise up to conquer or cower in shame and disgrace? Let's find out.

While the name of the world is the same (Ancaria), there is little to no similarities between the Ancaria of the retail games and the one found here in Sacred Citadel. There are more dramatic differences as well. For instance, the retail game Sacred 2 is a top down view of the land where you observe, direct, and command from on high. Here in Sacred Citadel each level is a pseudo 3D side scrolling environment where the action is up close and personal. That isn't the end though for the dramatic differences by any means. Gone are the six classes of characters to pick from and instead you have a group of four generic styled classes to choose from such as warrior, archer, shaman, and mage. Also gone are the individual classes of useable mounts and instead we get some generic mutant that looks like it was cross bred between a chicken and a triceratops then armor was put on it and a saddle. So far these dramatic changes have greatly altered from what makes Sacred such a great series, but maybe the gameplay and content will make up for this?

Sadly no it won't. Sacred Citadel's gameplay blueprint is something that one would find dating back to the 16 bit days of Golden Axe, and while some would think that to be a good thing, always remember that not everything ages well over the years. Your character will already start out with basic combo system, and when we say basic, we're talking about simple X, Y button presses. The X button is your basic attack and, yeah you guessed it, the Y button is your strong attack. Combos are initiated by pressing X first, then either up, down, left, or right on the LS and the Y button. There are more advanced combos that you can learn but they only involve more presses of the X or Y button. These combos can come in handy when you're faced with a bunch of enemies, but thanks to their dimwitted intelligence, you can run around, grouping them together in a bunch, then wail away on them until they all drop. While this gameplay is good in theory when you talk side scrolling action games, the whole movement and combat system feels over 10 years old with little to no refinement thus making it almost feel like a chore to play rather than a grand adventure, and that makes us melancholy given the wealth of potential and yet none of it used.

Now we know what you're thinking, Sacred 2 has tons of loot to collect so is it the same with Sacred Citadel? Yes and no. There are various types of weapons, which range from swords, axes, maces, hammers, bows, and more and each weapon carries a bonus attribute. For instance, swords can increase your chances of critical hits, while axes are unblockable and will always land an attack. There are other elemental bonuses that can be found attached to certain weapons as well and each of them provides another unique trait. Fire damage, as expected, will burn your enemy and cause damage after the initial attack lands, while spells such as lightning will stun enemies and keep them vulnerable to a second attack. There are also multiple armors to be found throughout the game and each as well provides different boosts and stat enhancements, however, after all this there is a lingering problem. Sacred 2 allowed you to customize multiple pieces of armor and unfortunately that is not something found in this game. This is a huge black eye given that Sacred has always been about customizing your player with new amazing gear and weapons, and that isn't found in this game. What a shame.

There are other aspects of this game that don't seem to fit the feel of the Sacred series. Aspects such as the poor attempts to knit humor into the plot or the fact that each of the four acts in the game are broken down into multiple, very short, side scrolling levels instead of one big world. While there are some similarities to be found, such as potions that can be collected and used in battle, or the distribution of character points after each time you level up, the differences you will find in Sacred Citadel amount to nothing more than a side scrolling hack and slash title instead of a dungeon crawling, loot hunting, action rpg game. Should you spend 1200 MS points on this latest entry into the Sacred series? Undoubtedly no. If you're looking for a generic side scrolling hack and slash game, then there are better ones to choose from, and if you're looking for a dungeon crawling experience that will keep you hunting for long periods of time, then again, there are better games to spend your hard earned points on.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Battle Block Theater

With summer fast approaching and the well of amazing retail titles starts to temporarily dry up, it doesn't hurt to go looking to the Xbox Live Arcade for entertaining titles that will keep you gaming for hours upon hours. With that said and after a long and patient wait, Behemoth games finally releases a new title called Battleblock Theater, and for once in our gaming history we get to enjoy the unrelenting, powerful, and awe inspiring power of cats.

Known for such titles as Castle Crashers, Battleblock Theater provides another innovative platforming experience from the twisted minds at Behemoth. Priced at 1200 MS points, Battleblock Theater is one of the more expensive titles you can find on the XBLA, but is it worth it? Only one way to find out, so let's begin! First and foremost one thing has to be considered and that is the plot of this game is full of humor that wouldn't necessarily be geared more to children, or sane people for that matter. Everything seems to start off swimmingly for your hero and friends. Everyone is cruising along on a massive ship called FRIENDSHIP (get it?) and having a great time until your ship gets caught in a storm so large that Russell Crowe himself would have been cowering with fear. With no end of the storm in sight you end up shipwrecking off the coast of some exotic island which has been claimed in name of cats.

Right before your eyes, you witness your bestest friend in the whole universe, gets corrupted by powerful cat magic and forces him to be a bad guy. What’s his first order of business? Why it's to kidnap your other friends and hold them prisoner while they perform a dramatic theater production of platforming tension and death that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

With platforming being the central focus of Battleblock Theater it is absolutely critical that the play control of the game be next to perfect. Other games have suffered from either controls being too twitchy or too sluggish, but like Goldilocks, Battleblock Theater's control scheme hits very close to just right. Simple control setup such as punch, jump, use weapon, and suicide are complimented by responsive touches with both the left and right stick to produce a fluid and very responsive feel for the game. This plays into a major role when you find yourself trying to go from area to area and you have to contend with multiple different traps and obstacles. Each of these areas are divided up into smaller individual maps (which you can preview in the screen right above the doors themselves) and will force you to jump, double jump, vault, jet pack and more in order to collect all the gems and balls of yarn which will aid you in releasing your other captive friends and snag your character some fun new weapons such as a paper airplane.

There are a few innovations that bring more value as well to Battleblock Theater and that involves both the trading system and the level designer. At your fingertips you have the ability to create your very own levels and play them online with your friends and other gamers. With even most retail games not offering some form of level editing, it's a great surprise to have a platforming title on the XBLA offer this option up. Trading is also something that makes a revamped appearance in Battleblock Theater. By allowing you to trade for other prisoners, weapons, and more you get the sense that this is far more a social game than a single player platformer.

Deliberately done in a stick puppet theme, the graphics of Battleblock Theater are more humorous than eye blinding. The cinematic sequences between each chapter provide a comical experience comprised of the quality you could expect from say the earlier seasons of South Park. While the graphics have a deliberate funny feel to them, the soundtrack to Battleblock Theater could be classified as downright disturbing. While in the prison and selecting your level, your ears will be haunted by an eerie tribal riff which is complimented by the sounds of cats meowing over and over and over again. While the soundtrack is disturbing, the voice overs throughout the game provide another shot of comedy that is both strangely insulting and entertaining all at the same time. So now the curtain falls, and it's time to make a decision. "To buy, or not to buy, that is the question." The answer is a resounding yes. Even though 1200 MS points are a lot to spend on an arcade title, Battleblock Theater provides a hefty platforming experience coupled with a very creative and time exhausting level designer. When you add in the twisted humor that drowns every aspect of this game, what you get is a severely demented, yet very addicting and enjoyable platforming arcade game.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Terraria

When you think of an Xbox Live Arcade game that lets you construct pickaxes, mine gold ore to be melted into bars, and traverse a wide open world both above and below ground you may be thinking of Minecraft, but now there's a new kid on the block. Conceived by 505 Games and originally released on PC before Minecraft, a port of Terraria released on the Xbox Live Arcade in an attempt to put a dent into the crown of the infamous time drainer. Priced at a whopping 1,200 MS points Terraria is one of the more expensive games on the Xbox Live Arcade, but the big question is though, is it worth it? Given that Terraria released before Minecraft, one would venture to guess that it is already poised for mining domination, but is it? Well to find out we grabbed our pickaxes and torches and set off into the depths to see what lurks down below.

Right from the beginning you will see that the biggest difference between both games is that Terraria is 2D compared to 3D and that everything around you will harken you back to the days of old 16 bit enjoyment. While there are other differences between the two, this is without a doubt the biggest. Given that this game is set to go toe to toe with Minecraft, let us show you some more similarities. For starters the whole menu system looks and feels almost like a direct copy of what you come to expect from Minecraft. Boxes and tabs indicate what you can build, smelt, etc. provided you have enough resources. This means that for those familiar to the menu and crafting system of Minecraft will find a slight learning curve, but you almost wonder how close to a legal battle Terraria actually is, given the sheer amount of similarities.

The plot behind Terraria is not only glacially slow, but pretty much nonexistent and consists of one main rule, explore and mine everything you can see both above and below ground throughout the world. To accomplish this you are given a straightforward control scheme that unfortunately doesn't seem to blend well with the controller and gameplay. The reasoning behind this is due to the fact that there are two different ways to mine. You can go full out ahead but your accuracy in choosing what blocks to mine will suffer greatly forcing you to make many repairs along the way. Then there is the more precise "mouse mode" which allows you to use your Right Stick to direct a cursor around your character to choose what particular block you want to mine. The latter method is far more exacting, but also far more time consuming. Deciding on what method you would like to use is as simple as clicking the RS, however, when you take into account Terraria's seemingly endless supply of evil baddies, you will find yourself clicking your Right Stick like crazy as you can easily forget that you're in precision mode and your cursor is pointing away from the enemies. Even though the control scheme works, in some aspects you get the sense that a little more refinement would have gone a long way into improving the overall gameplay experience. If you have a massive world to uncover, discover, and mine, your game must have a very fluid and user friendly control scheme and sadly you won't find that here.

To say that Terraria has a massive world is a huge understatement. Taking note of the width of the map you will find that it is a lengthy trek across, but what is more surprising than the width, is the depth of the world itself. Above ground the world is abundant with trees, mountains, various plants and more but what is more surprising is what resides below ground. Veins of different types of ores pulsate through the layers of dirt and stone, but what makes up Terraria's subterranean jewel are the different boss fights and regions below which even include the depths of Hell. On the surface, this seems to be all well and good, but there is a slight issue with this and that is that the pacing of the game itself makes you feel less inspired to spend the countless hours and days of mining stone and mud to get to one boss, then get killed and respawn what seems as an eternity away just to make the long walk back to battle. This goes to show that even though you may have content available, you have to make gamers actually want to devote their time to getting there, and otherwise, what’s the point?

All of these block breaking, enemy destroying, and land traversing experiences come blanketed in a very nostalgic 16 bit glory. Colorful sprites can be seen in every facet of Terraria and when you start taking into account the actual character creation process, dungeons, and boss areas, you can really get a feel for the 2D world of Terraria. If the graphical nostalgia wasn't enough to bring a smile to your face, the generic blippy soundtrack that courses through the game will. Think of this in terms of classic SNES soundtracks and you will pretty much hit the nail on the head.

So now the big question, is Terraria worth 1,200 MS points? Without hesitation, yes. Sure there may be issues that plague critical points and aspects of this game, but the addictive value in beating the ever loving crap out of the world in 16 bit glory will take a very long time to get old. Terraria may not make you say Mine who? or Craft what? However the overwhelming amount of content provided will gladly drain countless hours out of your life, and let's face it; if a game is doing that, then that must mean it's enjoyable and that is what is needed to create a very good game.

Suggestions: A little refinement with the controller interface and a bit faster pace with the gameplay.

Overall Score: 8.2 / 10 Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel

When video game companies want to make a blockbuster intense action game they seem to follow the same recipe as a Hollywood movie. Start with a very generic plot, add some supporting characters that no one will remember or care about, then spend the rest of the entire budget on weapons and creating as many explosions as possible. Then they go through the painstaking editing process to mix everything together, put some polish on at the end, then package it and send it out to the masses to enjoy. EA has been known to follow this formula to the letter and the latest installment in the Army of TWO series is no different. Time to choose your loadout because we are heading in to hopefully see the good, probably see the bad, and most likely the ugly with this review of Army of TWO: The Devil's Cartel. Incoming!

Army of TWO has always put plot on the back burner to focus almost entirely on creating over the top gunfights, executions, and as many explosions as you could possibly fathom. In this regard, the previous games gave you control of the duo Salem and Rios, but in this instance (for whatever unknown reason) you get control of two new overacting contractors called, wait for it... Alpha and Bravo. Either they were named by their parents after military checkpoints, or EA didn't have a phone book handy to pick random names from, and the hits keep on coming. The plot lines of the game itself are incredibly cliche, but more disappointing than that is the feel that EA decided to put more value on creating intense and crazy over the top gun battles than creating a meaningful reason to do so. So because of this decision, ultimately in the end the whole plot of Army of TWO: The Devil's Cartel seems to consist of brief cut scenes of choppy animation that lead right into more gunfire and explosions. We'd like to think that EA wanted more of a parody of iconic action movies and games with this latest Army of TWO, because if you go into this game thinking that the story is going to become a pillar of example for others to follow for the future, think again. If you think that Army of TWO will provide hours of mindless shooting and more explosions than Rambo could handle without any regard to a meaningful story, you're right on target.

If your intention is to create quality scene after scene of firefights and explosions, then you must have at least some adequate play control to support this endeavor. Unfortunately though for Army of TWO the control scheme feels like a cheap knock off of other top tier 3rd person shooters. The movement itself feels slow and unresponsive and the incredibly clunky cover system does very little to help make the game feel fluid and fast paced. There are other bugs and glitches with the gameplay that don't help matters either. For instance, many times when my character went into a melee kill that missed he would continue to swing away with his knife over, and over, and over again and while he was doing that, other enemies were firing off RPG's and heavy machine guns in my direction. Army of TWO: The Devil's Cartel does offer a wide variety of customizable weaponry but unfortunately that seems to be the only thing of any value to the game that would make you want to keep on playing and when that becomes the case, it may be time to totally rethink the series. There is though one innovation to the gameplay that tries like a defibrillator to shock some entertainment and enjoyment back into the game, and that is the Overkill system.

Essentially when you kill enough enemies your Overkill meter will fill up and once full can be activated to temporarily make your character invincible and when both you and your partner activate it the game will take on a slow motion feel allowing you to exterminate any and all living things around you. While this adds a lot to the overall enjoyment of massive death and destruction, it unfortunately can't bring the control scheme back to life. All of these poor gameplay mechanics ultimately give Army of TWO: The Devil's Cartel a massive black eye and when you take into account all that must be done to create a fluid combat system, you feel yourself scratching your head and wondering how EA could see the final product and approve of its release. Even though the plot is almost nonexistent and the play control is about as fluid as concrete, that is unfortunately the tip of the iceberg of issues that face this latest Army of TWO.

As the title of the game implies in capital letters, Army of TWO means that the beating heart of this game revolves around a cooperative experience and the issues that plague that factor almost make this game stillborn. If you are deciding to tackle this game in a single player fashion then be prepared to face a crippling downfall, the online game invite. If you have an open session and someone decides to join it, you must first complete the chapter before they can enter your game, but here is the kicker: you will have to start your chapter over from the beginning. Apparently there is no fluid drop in/out system implemented but there are more faults as well with the whole game invite system. It isn't uncommon to get spammed with multiple invites to join, but the downfall to this is that the game pauses every single time you receive one of these pop up invites and if you are in the process of going into cover, you run a high risk of unknowingly accepting the invite and thus undoing all of your hard work in your current mission. Bear in mind that this is the third installment in the Army of TWO series but you often wonder how much slack you can give a franchise before you totally overhaul the co-op experience and start from scratch because you realize that your current co-op system is relatively poor.

If you thought that the negatives would have stopped there, we're sorry to say that you're mistaken. One characteristic that has made some other mediocre action games somewhat tolerable would be the inclusion of fluid and beautiful graphics. Sadly, this isn't the case here. When you first pop the game in you are given the option to install an extra 1.5GB of data which apparently is an HD graphics pack. Now why this option even exists is a mystery to us but even with this optional content installed the graphics themselves suffer from choppy frame rates and an overall low resolution style feel.

The character modeling is acceptable but given what other examples we have seen from other companies, there is little room for forgiveness here. You could say that the game is held back by the technology of the platform, but where others have succeeded, Army of TWO: The Devil's Cartel falls flat on its face. Along with the average graphical display, there isn't much in terms of supporting sound either. To break this down think of three categories: dialogue, gunfire, explosions. While the dialogue is somewhat comedic in nature there isn't much in terms of quality audio that help bring this game back from the dead.

As mentioned earlier, this is the third game in the Army of TWO series and in this latest release there are far too many issues and problems to just turn a blind eye and forgive. Poor gameplay mechanics mixed with a cliche and overacted story combine with mediocre graphics and choppy frame rates to create a game that by now has had more than enough opportunity to produce a quality title. On top of all of these previous issues, Army of TWO: The Devil's Cartel is priced at full retail price of $59.99 and that almost makes it feel like an insult to gamers. When you add in the disappointing co-op experience, which we may remind you, is the backbone of the whole Army of TWO core, what you're left with is a game that does little to deliver any sort of quality, long lasting, or even memorable gaming experiences.

Suggestions: Completely overhaul the co-op experience and even though it's never been done in the past, try to include some form of meaningful story that compels gamers to want to play more of the game. Also fine tune the gameplay mechanics and the whole online invite system as well. Then develop some way to allow gamers to keep what progress they have made if they decide to join another game in progress instead of just having to start all the way over from the beginning of the chapter. Ultimately, it's time to completely rethink and overhaul the entire Army of TWO.

Overall Score: 5.2 / 10 Dollar Dash

Sometimes sticking to the basics in video games is more than enough to produce a very successful title. Elements such as engaging a community of gamers, very simplistic controls, and straight forward goals that allow for constant and evolving gameplay are but some of the basics that companies must get right in order to secure a victory on any platform. This brings us to the game Dollar Dash by Kalypso Media. Priced at 800 MS points and available on the Xbox Live Arcade, Dollar Dash is fairly straight forward. The rule of the game is simple, steal every dollar you can from the levels and any other fellow thieves, first one to steal the required amount is the winner. Now let's see if this game can sneak away with our 800 MS points, or if it gets caught red handed.

When you begin your crime spree the first thing you will notice is that Dollar Dash makes you feel like you've stepped back in time to the 1930's-40's era with characters that go over the top when it comes to stealing that hard earned cash. The menu system is fairly straight forward allowing you to do one single player training session called Boot Camp before you go toe to toe with other thieves from around the world. After that one single player mission you will have to fight on in multiplayer through three different types of capers. The first one is called Dollar Dash where the object of the game is simple, when you find money sprouting up throughout the levels, collect as much as you can in your bag, run to the drop off point to "bank" your stash, then rinse and repeat until the cash goal is reached, then start a new game. While the gametype itself is simplistic, when you throw in the mix a bunch of other gamers and all of you blasting away with weapons and defensive options, you will quickly realize that holding onto all that cash is a lot harder than originally thought.

The second gametype is called Hit'n'Run and this mode is even more basic than the previous one. Using the weapons provided in the level, blast apart every other opponent to earn cash. There isn’t any drop off points to dilute the action, so what you are left with is just massive carnage that is never ending. Every time you knock out a player your character earns cash; knockout enough players to hit the target cash goal and you'll steal yourself the victory. The third and final gametype is called Save the Safe and involves a massive safe that your character must pick up and hold onto so your character can start making money. While this is going on though, you'll have your opponents firing away at you trying to make you drop your safe. When you add the fact that your character runs slightly slower while carrying the safe, it goes without question that this gametype also provides fast paced, explosive fun.

The reason we say explosive is because the amount of over the top weaponry in Dollar Dash is extensive. Ranging from Nuclear weapons and stun guns, to snowballs and vacuum cleaners, Dollar Dash gives you a lot of tools to use to steal every dollar you can from your opponents. You can't have a good offense without a good defense and that is where you can obtain some tide turning items that will shift victory into your favor. Items such as the Jelly mold will deflect any incoming armaments for a short time and items such as the bear trap will snag enemies and cause them to drop some of their own cash allowing you to swoop in and pick it up. There are other special items that can be picked up throughout the levels and these special items give you temporary perks such as increased speed, cloning, invisibility, and more. When you combine all of this into one contained arena level, you end up with nonstop action in every game.

While you may be thinking you're the top thief around, Dollar Dash allows you to customize your thief with a hefty amount of personalization options. Options such as changing your hat and face are all pretty standard, but you can also change out different perks for your character such as immunity to fire or increasing the size of your sack. There are literally hundreds of items to unlock for purchase, however, to obtain these things requires you to do something rather unfortunate, which leads us to the main problem with Dollar Dash, and it's quite a big one at that.

The issue in question is repetition. Earlier we mentioned that games like Bomberman allowed for an incredibly fun experience and it allowed customization as well, however, Dollar Dash is far from having the same quality experience. Repeating loops of music, top down view of the arena, and multiple characters on the screen at the same time all sound like qualities of Bomberman, but Dollar Dash though just doesn't provide the same type of entertainment or excitement that grasped us back in the days. Even though the graphics are not the worst, they aren't the best either and it really doesn't matter since like we stated earlier, you're looking from the top down on your character, so customizing it is almost relatively pointless, and if that becomes the case, then why play to earn cash and unlock new items?

So has Kalypso released a game about comedic thieves that provides many hours of enjoyment and excitement? Sadly no they haven't. Priced in at $10 (800MS points) when you think of what other amazing games are available for the same price, Dollar Dash won't stand out in a lineup. This game could do incredibly well if it were a $2-$5 mobile app, but instead it's a $10 Xbox Live Arcade game that should sneak away in the night and be happy to count the actual money that does come in from the sale of Dollar Dash.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Bioshock Infinite

In the pantheon of video games the title Bioshock sent smiles across faces of gamers around the world. Millions who realized that they were about to embark on a twisted and dark journey that would ultimately test the limits of their very own sanity. Phrases like "Would you kindly" set the stage for what could be argued as one of the biggest surprises in video game history, and, originally set in depths of the sea, provided a haunting, claustrophobic stage from which survival became almost an unreachable dream. It has been a long time since the minds of Irrational Games took us beyond the sea but now in their latest release, Bioshock Infinite, gamers arise from the depths below to take to the clouds and the skies above as the sunken landscape of Rapture is left behind for the soaring city of Columbia. Come with us as we look into the heart and mind of Columbia and examine what makes Bioshock Infinite a possible crown jewel of video gaming.

Straight away Bioshock Infinite sets you as the role of Booker DeWitt on your way to a remote lighthouse which apparently is the gateway to Columbia. The reasoning for your voyage there is clouded at first but the one certainty is that you must find the girl to wipe away a debt. Mystery clouds your initial arrival, but few details that you do gain in the beginning allow you to unravel the many layers of intrigue only to be left with more questions in your mind. A top quality story has always been the backbone of any Bioshock game, and in Bioshock Infinite the trend continues. Instead of a story that plunges you head first against an adversary and their challenges, Bioshock Infinite takes it's time to prepare and set many stages that ultimately in the end become incredibly satisfying and allow your mind to play tricks upon itself thus dramatically increasing the psychological aspect of the game. Think of Bioshock Infinite's story more in terms of parts of a play where each act not only brings you one step closer to solving your mystery, but also adds additional questions for you to think about. The story itself though wouldn't be as compelling if it weren't for the girl herself, Elizabeth.

This innovative take on the single player experience is one that was a big risk for Irrational Games due to the fact that some games in the past that offer a companion don't fully utilize them and thus making them feel more like baggage than an actual companion, but not in Bioshock Infinite. When you think of Elizabeth's character you can easily draw reference from the childhood tale Rapunzel where a young girl is trapped in a tower from which she must be rescued, except instead of a gallant hero we have a protagonist with a shady past and instead of saving her from a witch, you have to contend with the Song Bird. Elizabeth however, offers up more than just an NPC character with a few lines of dialogue. She has the ability to do many things such as: look through items to collect resources to give to you, pick open locks, point out hidden areas of exploration or valuable items, and even do quite well in battle. These abilities though pale in comparison to her greatest power, tearing. These tears in space time allow you to gain resources such as health and ammo but can also provide paths for navigation and more. Aside from all of this Elizabeth's character also will interact with other NPCs in Columbia including various machines which all adds to the wealth of the character and in the end adds a wealth of meaning to the character and the story as well.

Being that previous Bioshock games have tried to bring innovation to a first person gameplay experience, Bioshock Infinite goes to great lengths to bring back that unique quality gameplay. The plasmids of old have been replaced by Vigors but that doesn't mean that the joy or lethality has been lessened in the slightest. Vigors will allow you to harness powers such as fire, electricity, crows, possess enemies, and more. Now though you have options in the forms of combinations and traps. Instead of using the crow vigor you can hold the button down to throw a crow trap that if any enemy sets it off, a murder of crows circle around the enemy tearing it apart slowly piece by piece while you watch and hear your enemy scream for mercy. These Vigors are not just one trick pony though, they can be upgraded to increase damage, area attacks, and even have your enemies kill themselves. The possession vigor allows you take control of an enemy or machine to temporarily aid you in a battle, but once the vigor is upgraded your enemy NPC that you possess will kindly commit suicide. These combinations of different vigor powers greatly increases your options and enjoyment in battle and to be honest, there's something satisfying seeing an enemy survive a murder of crows only to attack you with part of a face that’s recognizable but that’s where another strength of Bioshock Infinite resides.

Jaw dropping, breathtaking, heavenly. Any of these words could blanket any discussion about Bioshock Infinite's graphics. Everything from the other NPC characters, to the environment, to the special effects has been polished with tremendous attention to detail making every moment in Bioshock Infinite a wondrous moment to see. The flying buildings and mammoth airships that cascade through the clouds are populated by a wide variety of NPC characters that create one of the most beautiful settings of any game. We did experience some graphical glitches with some out of place textures but those very few and hard to see glitches paled in comparison to the overall magnitude of beauty all around you. While the graphics of Bioshock Infinite make you feel closer to the heavens than ever before, the audio will immerse your mind into the society and psychological aspect of the game. Listening to other NPC conversations provide a tremendous amount of backstory on what life in Columbia is really like, and the musical score does great justice to the year 1912. Without question, it really is spectacular to witness every moment of this game.

As stated earlier you will come across a wide variety of NPC characters in Columbia, but that also means that your enemies have changed. Now gone are the splicers but only to be replaced by a militarized force of police, guards and of course, automatic turrets. One character that has been an iconic staple of the Bioshock series has always been the Big Daddies, but now they are replaced by the Handymen who are monstrous in size, very aggressive in temper, and viciously powerful. These massive brutes are a force to contend with so keep the strategy simple, aim for the heart and don't stop firing. While the Handymen may be massive, the Songbird is gigantic. Imagine a massive bird of prey that is six stories high and has one purpose in life, to protect Elizabeth in the tower at any cost.

It is very rare to find a game that delivers such a top quality experience in almost every field, but Bioshock Infinite does just that. Innovations in character development, gameplay, and story really help take Bioshock Infinite out of the shadows of Rapture and into the light of Columbia. Without a doubt, Irrational Games and 2K have done what very few thought would be possible and that is bring out a Bioshock game that not only lives up to the high quality standards that we all know and love but exceeds almost every expectation we as gamers have for the franchise. As the sun sets on the life of the Xbox 360 we as gamers raise our glass to thank the folks at Irrational Games and 2K for providing one last breathtaking tapestry of psychotic beauty on this console.

Overall Score: 9.6 / 10 Darkstalkers Resurrection

When you hear the phrase fighting game, there's a strong chance you will think of the company Capcom. For decades they have strived to obtain the fighting game crown with their most popular franchise, Street Fighter. However, there is a series from Capcom that while not as main stream as Street Fighter, has gained an almost cult like following and that series is Darkstalkers. Molded from the same formulas as Street Fighter, Darkstalkers brought to the ring a slew of characters ranging from those found in horror movies, to children's stories and more, which in turn, provided Capcom a way to seemingly re-invent the wheel.

Using a few innovative (for the time) gameplay additions such as air guards and ex attacks allowed Capcom to create a fighting game with a very fluid and fast paced feel to it. This is the fundamental core of what makes Darkstalkers a dark horse fighting game. The Darkstalkers faithful have lit their candles for years in hopes that Capcom will release a new installment of the franchise. Instead of granting that wish though, Capcom has decided to test the patience of those faithful by releasing HD remakes of Darkstalkers Night Warriors and Darkstalkers 3 into one release on the Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 MS points. Side scrolling, button mashing, screen flashing moves have always been the backbone of the Darkstalkers series. Given the fact that there are two separate games in this release, let's take them one at a time and see if you should be spending your 1200 MS points on this, or something else.

Darkstalkers Night Warrior is the first title in this double feature and from the beginning it will instantly appeal to the hardcore fans as well as provide a great way for those new to the series to jump in and play. The customizable six button configuration remains intact and if you do not have an arcade stick you're in luck, because you can customize the layout to suit the controller. There is a single player arcade mode which allows you to select any of the demons available and twist your way through the dark levels honing your skills as you prepare to take on the world in the very solid multiplayer option. It's in here where you can configure your search by not only region but also player level and ping time as well so you will know ahead of time what you are getting yourself into. There are other options within multiplayer such as tournament and there's even the new innovation of syncing your Xbox 360 to YouTube to display your unholy dominance to the world.

Already known for being a beautiful and colorful fighting game, Capcom has done a fantastic job with providing the HD remake for Darkstalkers Night Warrior. Now the backgrounds look more vibrant and the colorful characters we know and love look absolutely brilliant. Now when you manage to pull off special moves and connect that 20 hit combo, the screen lights up in a spectacular fashion bringing to life every aspect of this HD remake. Originally releasing on the Sega Saturn system back in 1997, Capcom has done a fantastic job resurrecting the classic joy we had back in 1996 and bring it into today's world. With one of the two Darkstalkers games showcasing some amazing beauty in the new HD remake, time to press onward now to the next game included with this Darkstalkers Resurrection arcade title, Darkstalkers 3.

Originally released back in 1998, Darkstalkers 3 has arguably been hailed as one of the definitive titles in the franchise. Knowing that a large and loyal following would be combing over every detail of this game, Capcom set out to give this game a facelift that any Hollywood plastic surgeon would admire. While the core gameplay remained, there were a few changes however to how the matches were played. Instead of opting for a more traditional round system, Darkstalkers 3 implemented a system that made each fight one round but allowed each person a dual life bar that when drained would signal your character "downed" and after the second bar was lost, the match was over.

Capcom has done a terrific job keeping the gameplay as original and hectic as it was before, but not contempt to rest there, Darkstalkers 3 has been given such a tremendous HD remake to the graphics that the entire package looks simply stunning. Bright, vibrant colors grace every inch of every level and the character models of the fighters look like they have aged better than Dick Clarke. It goes without saying that Capcom has done a magnificent job bringing these two aged classics back to life.

There are a few drawbacks though, and that mostly rests within the content provided, or should I say not provided. This isn't the first time these games have been released, yet in previous releases, we as gamers were treated with more content such as a chaos tower mode, more characters, etc. Capcom though does include an innovative challenge system where you can go through different tiers of challenges to level up your "player" and unlock various artworks, movies, and more. This extra content though serves very little purpose to gamers and in the end seems to bring down the overall title itself. Had there been more content, then it could easily be worth the 1200 MS points ($15); however, when it comes to just purchasing the content provided and then waiting to purchase more DLC for the game that should have already been included, Darkstalkers Resurrection should rest in peace.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Tomb Raider

There is one word that seems to be becoming a growing trend in the video game world and that is reboot. It's this word that we have seen developers and publishers alike throw around when talking about iconic video game franchises and their future. What a reboot means is essentially take every game prior to this latest release and throw it away. Then focus on beginning another story with this new game. Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have decided that the next video game to receive a reboot is the Tomb Raider franchise and the once overly voluptuous Lara Croft. If you haven't played any Tomb Raider games before in the past, you're in luck since this is now the official beginning of the series. If you have played any or all previous games, forget everything you already know because all the other Tomb Raiders are now obsolete and the Tomb Raider official cannon apparently starts now.

When you hear the title Tomb Raider your mind instantly snaps to qualities such as: amazing treasure, perplexing puzzles, quick reflexed combat, body destroying traps, and more. It's these core platforming mechanics that must not only be introduced, but overhauled from scratch due to the reboot and still provide the utmost quality and if possible, improve on what we all know and love about the game. To accomplish this herculean feat Crystal Dynamics set off to provide gamers a quality balance of exploration and puzzle solving mixed together with intense but fluid combat and cinematic beauty. And they topped it all off with some high quality polish that brings Lara to life like we've never seen her before. On paper all of this sounds like a great recipe to make a truly spectacular game so has Crystal Dynamics' reboot of Tomb Raider found the discovery of a lifetime or does it get crushed to death by a rock? Let's find out.

First and foremost you have to understand that in this reboot of Tomb Raider, we are literally experiencing Lara in her infancy when it comes to exploration and hunting treasure. While the beginning of the game does very little to help establish any sort of meaningful connection with your supporting cast, it does though manage to integrate past experiences throughout the game in order to allow some form of meaning when it comes to your team. One of Crystal Dynamics' biggest successes with this reboot of Tomb Raider is how we as gamers get to experience Lara's evolution and growth as she progresses through the story. While the beginning tutorial of the game is relatively slow with occasional moments of high paced action, you will find that once you progress through the basics of Tomb Raider, the world opens up to you and allows you one amazing experience after another. Make no mistake, this story of Tomb Raider is a dark way to begin the reboot experience, however, when faced with challenges head on that involve choices that impact whether you live or die, you do what you have to do to survive.

Now that Crystal Dynamics have provided a dark, evolving story of Lara Croft, their next success comes from their gameplay mechanics. Scampering up walls to higher ledges, flying down zip lines, jumping from platform to platform on your way to treasure are just a few of the platforming elements that made all the previous Tomb Raider games what they are, and in this latest reboot of the franchise we experience a very fluid and straight forward control scheme which allows you to focus more on exploration and combat than camera control and checkpoints.

Not stopping there, Crystal Dynamics has also included some new gameplay innovations to Tomb Raider that push the single player experience from great, to absolutely brilliant. This is accomplished by adding the ability to upgrade Lara's characteristics such as getting more xp from hunting animals, to scavenging more scrap to allow you upgrade your equipment and weapons faster and so on. Yes scavenging for scrap is what it will take to survive through Tomb Raider. This is how the second innovation takes shape. Crystal Dynamics is allowing Lara to upgrade her equipment via the use of scavenged scrap which you can find from animals (with the right character boost purchased), enemies, chests, etc. These upgrades are weapon specific; however, they greatly change the mechanics of gameplay when you start getting deeper into the story of Tomb Raider.

Graphically speaking, Tomb Raider and Lara Croft have never looked better. Stunning rays of light creep through the foliage while cascading waterfalls produce breathtaking backdrops to your adventures. Lighting effects from your torch and campfires are gorgeous and even the Tombs themselves are beautiful in their own dark and perplexing way. Even though the graphics are blindingly beautiful, adding additional support from the sound department allows the island and all its inhabitants the treasure seeking experience of a lifetime. Crackling of fires, creaking of foliage under your feet, the voice over acting, all of it and more has been done with precision detail giving your ear drums an auditory sensation like no Tomb Raider ever before.

Now everything so far sounds pretty good, however, there are a few drawbacks that cause Tomb Raider to take an arrow... nevermind. The main drawback of Tomb Raider rests squarely on the multiplayer. While the single player is done brilliantly with only a few minor drawbacks, the multiplayer however does not feel as polished as the campaign, is a pain to get loaded up and configured, and ultimately is the most broken and boring aspect of the game itself. You can find Atlantis in the time it takes to load one multiplayer game and in-between rounds you have time to write a bestselling novel based off your adventure. The level design is not the best and when you get to the point where you can customize your loadouts in multiple ways, you will have already lost interest because you will feel that Tomb Raider's multiplayer was compiled at the last minute and when you throw in a poor multiplayer into a stellar single player story mode, that really does give Tomb Raider a black eye.

So overall has Crystal Dynamics pulled off a successful reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise? Undoubtedly so. By providing a dark and ominous storyline with exceptional play control mechanics and a vast island to explore with secondary tombs to uncover, this is the Tomb Raider that gamers around the world have been waiting for. Stunning graphics, amazing sound quality, and innovations for both weapon and character upgrades make this adventure one that shouldn't be missed. Throughout the past few years there have been reboots of other franchises, but none of those can compare to the quality that Crystal Dynamics brings in their reboot of one of the greatest platforming, adventure franchises of all time; Tomb Raider.

Suggestions: Either improve on the multiplayer to bring it to the quality of the single player experience, or let it go to focus only on the single player experience. Also some more depth to the secondary characters to help give the story more of a sense of meaning and involvement between the characters.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Capcom Arcade Cabinet

If you're reading this and you consider the original Xbox an antique and you wonder to yourself "What exactly, is an arcade?" then what you're about to read may astonish you. Back in the day there wasn't facespace or mybook or gitter or toogle, instead there were arcades. Areas that was local around your city where masses gathered and not only gamed together but socialized together. Instead of spending money for digital content on a facespace game, gamers poured small fortunes of quarters over and over again until closing time. This "Golden Age" of gaming resulted in some of the most iconic games we have ever played and could easily be considered the foundation of the games we know and play today. Many companies tried their best to bring gaming to a whole new world and without question Capcom could be considered one of the best.

To bring this classic feel to life, Capcom has attempted to deliver some of these amazing games to us in a virtual arcade cabinet form. The setup is fairly straight forward but the amount of content provided is absolutely staggering. For starters, Capcom is offering a triple pack of games for 400 MS points. This could be looked at as the "starter pack" for the arcade. The virtual cabinet you access should be considered more of a portal where you can scroll through the onscreen games list, select the game you want and whisk yourself away to days of big hair bands, spandex, and leg warmers of the mid to late 1980's. This however isn't just a one trick pony ride. Included in the first pack of games that you get for your initial 400 MS points are: Black Tiger, Avengers (no not those Avengers), and 1943: The Battle of Midway. While the first two may be unknown to some of the gaming community, 1943 becomes the "one you know" game to play. This gives you the feeling of going to a concert hoping to hear one song, then finally you hear it and all is right with the world again.

Capcom isn't stopping there thankfully as there will be additional games introduced between now and May 21. These packs will cost 800 MS points each but if there is only one or two games you want, then Capcom is allowing you to purchase each game individually for 320 MS points. In total there will be 15 games released and if you pick up all the other games, then Capcom will give you a bonus game pack of two games to be named latter so ultimately you will end up with a total of 17 brilliant arcade games! Some of the other games to be released that could be considered must haves are: Ghosts n Goblins, 1942, Section Z, Commando and more. After the dust has settled and the magic day of May 21 arrives, you will be able to purchase a complete arcade package for the price of 2000 MS points. While that sounds like a big price, this game actually becomes cheaper if you pursue this option and that to us doesn't provide any reason to purchase these when they release. Here's what we mean. There are a total of five game packs and outside the initial starter pack for 400 MS points, each is priced at 800 MS points, so for you to purchase everything is 3,800 MS points. According to Capcom though, if you wait until May 21 then you get everything including the bonus games for only 2,000 MS points. So let me repeat that, you get everything for 1,800 MS points less than you would if you were to buy all the packs when they release. This right here folks is the find of a lifetime.

Yes these are the original games that brought us years of enjoyment back in the day, however, Capcom has allowed us to configure the play, difficulty, screen size, and more of each and every single game released. While achievements won't be earned in most of these more casual game modes, these do offer you the chance to enjoy a game that may have haunted you before with failure in the past without having to worry about breaking your controller or swearing like a sailor at the screen. One beauty of these games that we miss in some of today's titles is the simplistic ease of use controls. No messy camera angles only you, your game, and the challenge that waited ahead. True we won't get to see realistic lighting and shadow effects that resemble reality or character facial expressions that are so lifelike we could swear we were looking into a mirror. Instead we are given 8-Bit greatness. Graphics from a time where artists had to become magicians with squares and still managed to surprise us for many years to come.

So now the big question, is the Capcom Arcade Cabinet worth the MS points? Well the honest answer is both yes and no. If you enjoy going back in time to a "Golden Age" of gaming, then yes, without question you should pick it up and enjoy every moment of it. However, if you only want a couple of the games, then picking them up individually is more suited for you instead of the massive 800 MS point game packs, but if you want all the games and all the content, then wait until May 21 and pick everything up for 2000 MS points. Thank you Capcom for giving a vast majority of gamers their childhood dreams back.

Overall Score: 7.3 / 10 Crysis 3

In the video game universe you often find a few diamonds amongst the collective mediocrity. Every genre of video game suffers from this truth, and in the realm of first person shooters; this is where the big boys come to play. Originally on the consoles we had a choice between Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo. For the longest time the PC gaming community hoarded like Gollum, a secret first person shooter game that has not only been the punch line of many jokes when it comes to the size of your um... graphics card, but has also led the forefront assault to deliver some of the most beautiful gameplay around. Finally after years of demand by the console community, Crysis found its way home. While the PC loyalists still proclaim it to be the best on their system (which they are speaking truth), however when you enter the gaming world on a console a fifth the cost of a top end graphics card, you will truly be surprised by what can be accomplished. For years since Crysis 2 released, the Xbox world has waited patiently in hopes that Crysis 3 will finally release and provide us all another amazing experience while wearing one of the most bad ass outfits ever conceived for a video game, the nano suit. It's time to get behind the visor and see for ourselves what the good and bad elements are of Crysis 3.

When we hear the name Crysis we automatically have a bar very high in our minds where we see how the evolution of technology and game development is going and want that same evolution applied to the already stunning Crysis games. Crysis 3 from Crytek sets out to achieve that mark, but unfortunately there are some soft spots in the armor, but we'll get to those here shortly. For starters one of the softer points of the Crysis games has always been the story. While the campaign itself is always done in stunning beauty, the story itself left gamers with a deflated feeling given the sheer magnitude of production that went into development. This unfortunate feeling still persists in Crysis 3 today. While you do play the role of Prophet that is awakened over 20 years and reunited with one of his old friends Psycho, the overall feeling throughout the story is lacking in substance and emotion. While a letdown already going into Crysis 3, this is not something new so we can't bear much weight against it on this issue.

For those who haven't played any Crysis games, your character wears what is called a nano suit which enhances your speed, strength, intelligence, and more. The suit also offers you the ability to switch between stealth like cloak where you are merely a faint ghostly outline of yourself or an increased armor mode where you may move slower but you will be able to absorb a lot more damage before falling. This innovation has been with us since the beginning but now the people at Crytek have decided that you need to add a very destructive compound bow to your disposal. While you may be saying, "oh great, a bow against heavily armed military and alien forces, yeah this will go over well." Your sarcastic thought will leave you eating humble pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Let us explain why. If you decide to go all stealth like in your gameplay approach, any gunfire of yours will not only make a lot of noise, but significantly drain your suit's replenishable energy supply and thus draining any cloak or hope you had of making it through ten guards on patrol. Now I said gunfire and that’s because if you use your bow there is very little reduction to your energy supply, meaning that you can fire an arrow cloaked, and remain cloaked after the shot. So now you're probably thinking, "So what if I'm cloaked after the shot, it's an arrow against enemies with advanced weapon systems and body armor." Here is where your 2nd serving of humble pie comes to the table.

The bow in Crysis 3 is in the same customizable boat along with almost every other weapon in the game. There are two points you can customize on the bow. The first option you can configure is your draw power. This allows you to optimize your bow for how you want to play. A higher draw will result in more power and more accuracy, but it will take longer to set up the shot; whereas a lower draw will result in quicker, but maybe not as lethal of a shot. The second customization point involves the arrow tips themselves. Outside of the standard razor tips, you can equip a timed explosive, electrocution, or proximity arrowheads which can really catch enemies by surprise, especially since you can remain cloaked after firing off an explosive arrowhead. The weapon customization feature is something that isn't new, however that doesn't mean it's a bad thing, especially when you're configuring powerful sniper rifles, heavy assault rifles and more.

One of the main strong points of the Crysis games has always been the graphical beauty of the game itself, and Crysis 3 truly pushes the envelope as to what we would think to be possible on consoles that we as a public already consider to be very dated. Back in the day you would read of people boasting about the specs in their brand new gaming computer, but when one question was asked, very few could raise their hands and the question was: "Can it run Crysis?" Given the fact that the technology inside the Xbox 360 is very limited and in some eyes, antiquated, Crytek goes a long way to showcase what can be done on such outdated technology in Crysis 3. Brilliant lighting effects, gorgeous detailed environments, and spectacular special effects combine together to create something so breathtaking that every level of play becomes unbelievably enjoyable. While the graphics of Crysis 3 are simply stunning, the sounds of Crysis 3 are sadly not up to par. It almost seemingly becomes a balancing of corporate resources and while the graphics team received the lion's share, you get the feeling that the sound and story departments scavenged for scraps.

Given the fact that the replay value of each level of Crysis 3 is very high, if you wanted to take your skills behind the visor against the world, then Crysis 3's multiplayer has you covered. While the traditional modes such as Deathmatch and Capture the Flag (Relay) make their presence known, gaming modes such as Hunter and Spears make their debut and offer up some innovative new ways to play Crysis 3. Hunter mode is just what the name implies. You become the prey of C.E.L.L. and are forced to stay alive but without stealth. Get killed and your character will turn into a hunter with a bow equipped. Spears could be considered to be Crysis 3's answer to a conquest style gameplay. When teams fight to take control of a spear, the winning team to capture it does not have to be near the spear in order to gain points. This aspect puts an innovative and action packed twist that will provide multiple hours of excitement.

While some Crysis 3 gamers may miss the truly open world of the original Crysis, Crytek goes to great lengths to create a vast open series of levels that while may ultimately seem linear, provide expansive gameplay choices and decisions that impact how the game plays out for you. There have been a few bugs and issues that have been encountered as we played through, while some were small, others involved the sound completely cutting out or stuttering throughout the cinematic sequences. These little glitches and bugs though can be found in almost any game and we're predicting a patch in the near future to resolve this little annoying issues and bugs.

While Crysis 3 does not do a whole lot in terms of groundbreaking innovations that entice and captivate audiences for weeks and months down the road, what it does provide is a beautiful backdrop to an incredible gaming experience. If you haven't had a chance yet to pick up or play any Crysis games, the time to start is now. While not a perfect first person shooter, Crysis 3 has its sights locked onto that crown and with new technology around the corner, you should consider this the perfect farewell to the old technology, and get ready to start dreaming about the quality we can hope for from Crytek in the upcoming future!

Suggestions: Please work on developing an emotional story and a soundtrack that provides as much impact as the graphics do.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Aliens: Colonial Marines

Let us ask you a question. Is it better to try and expand on a series that was iconic in inception but deteriorated as it progressed, or is it better to leave well enough alone and reminisce about the amazing experiences and emotions we felt right from the beginning? The subject in question are the Aliens movies, and while the series started strong it has evolved into what some would call "cash cows" where the movie studio knows that people will buy a ticket just because it includes the infamous Xenomorphs.

This trend has also infected the video game world by spawning very few successful game entries. This was a question that Gearbox had to answer and the result of their toil is the newly released Aliens: Colonial Marines. Having seen Sega and Gearbox debut this game back at E3 2011 we were initially taken back by the amount of effort that was poured into recreating much of the horror and excitement that we all know and loved from the original movies. So much effort has taken place that the story of Aliens: Colonial Marines is officially regarded as cannon for the Aliens series. So is Aliens: Colonial Marines a purebred masterpiece of horror and suspense, or is it just another notch on the belt of already released mediocre Aliens games? Let's find out.

Set in the near future after the classic James Cameron movie Aliens, you play the role of Corporal Winter sent in to investigate a distress signal picked up from the U.S.S. Sulaco which is found to be in orbit over LV-426. Just like in horror movies, nothing ever goes according to plan and soon you find yourself neck deep in acid filled Xenomorphs which seem to be crawling out from every direction possible. While this may start the game off on a positive note, regretfully this is about the brightest summary we can give. Yes unfortunately even with a console that has lasted all these years, there are no developments that can accurately portray the same level of quality we experienced in the movie Alien and Aliens. They say in space no one can hear you scream, but unfortunately for fans of the Aliens series, when you play this game everyone will hear your heart breaking. Not because some Xenomorph drives its tail through your torso, but because you rapidly realize that there was so much potential for this game and so much effort to try and recreate the experience, and a vast majority of it fails to live up to the mark. Hear us out on this.

On paper, Aliens: Colonial Marines gives us a glimpse of greatness. Proper settings such as LV-426, U.S.S. Sulaco, Hadly's Hope and more that tie right into the movies allow us to be transported back into the glory years of the Aliens series. The iconic Xenomorphs return and this is the first time that new types of Aliens such as the Crusher and Boiler are also included in the Aliens series. There are even classic characters that we all know from the Aliens movies that make their presence known in the game so a great sense of familiarity is injected right from the start. When you combine these three factors (on paper) you find you have a solid foundation to build something truly great, which perplexed all of us when we found ourselves scratching our heads saying, this game was delayed why again? Originally Aliens: Colonial Marines suffered the drawbacks of delays and while few welcomed the multiple delays a vast majority of the gaming world held their breath just a little longer as we collectively hoped that we would get to experience a truly brilliant adaptation of an iconic piece of film come to interactive life. Then we were hit with a punch in the gut and our fantasy filled hopes came crashing down like a Xenomorph dropping from above.

To allow gamers more focus on the game itself and not fumbling around with complex gameplay, Gearbox has included a very streamlined control system that allows for on the move, quick access to different weapons, navigation and more. Gearbox has also included innovations such as four player co-op campaign, and various forms of multiplayer. While these innovations do allow for an increased enjoyable experience, you can't help but be detracted by the game's AI system. Now on the front side we are told that there is an advanced AI system that will send Xenomorphs flanking around in strategic movements to increase the difficulty in hitting them. What we actually get is a predetermined path that all Xenomorphs take and with proper angle of controlled fire, Aliens: Colonial Marines takes the random scariness element out of play and thus ultimately removes one of the greatest elements that Alien and Aliens had going for it; the element of surprise and shock.

It almost becomes a matter of finding out the pattern, dying, and then starting over knowing where everything is coming from and killing it. This tends to turn the game into something very tedious instead of something to be enjoyed. When you combine the fact that you will go down many different hallways that look exactly the same, and you will do this multiple times, you really get the feeling of "now why again do I have to go back here for a fifth time?" These imperfections definitely make a significant negative impact, especially when you remove one of the key qualities that made the Alien and Aliens movies such masterpieces.

If the pain of this has become unbearable, it's perfectly ok. We couldn't believe how our dreams and aspirations for this game to be phenomenal have been shattered so severely. Unfortunately, the pain though doesn't stop there. The graphics of Aliens: Colonial Marines look fantastic in still photos; however, as you play through the game, you will find the graphics to fill you with an overwhelmingly large feeling of disappointment. There have been games released within the last two years that have blinded us with unimaginable beauty and when you're thinking of the Xenomorphs, the potential that was there feels squandered and in some instances completely disregarded in total.

While the graphics may be a kick in the junk, Aliens: Colonial Marines gets some serious help in the audio department. Infamous sounds from weapons such as the flamethrower, assault rifle, shotgun and more all return from their original use in the movies. Even the infamous motion tracker beep is done straight from the movies so you get the feeling that Gearbox tried very hard in the audio department, and when you factor in some of the original actors provide the voices for their character in the game, you see that the sounds themselves were meticulously integrated to really help immerse you back into the nightmare in space.

Outside of the story mode, Gearbox has included some various forms of multiplayer. Some of the modes are variants of classic gametypes such as Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and more and with support for 12 people, you can create some incredibly intense firefights. Both through the story and multiplayer you can rank your soldier up by completion of in game tasks and commendations, which in turn will grant him access to various weapons and weapon upgrades. This multiplayer innovation is going to be where the bulk of your time is spent, especially when you get to know the movement patterns and insertion points of the oncoming computer AI Xenomorphs from the story mode. As your character progresses in multiplayer you will quickly see that the addition of human controlled Xenomorphs do allow for that blin-out-of-you moments.

So does Aliens: Colonial Marines pull off a herculean feat of heroism and provide a fantastic Aliens experience? Heartbreakingly no, and instead it is court marshaled and sent packing with a permanent and undeniable list of blemishes. It is absolutely devastating that a game with so much potential will go through multiple delays, only to produce a product that is lackluster and full of disappointment. We cannot stress enough how badly we wanted this game to be a masterful work of interactive art, a game that would capture our minds and scare every fiber of our souls. We wished for a game that provided a beautiful visual spectrum with every step and instead we get graphics that feel like you have taken a time warp back to the beginning years of the Xbox 360.

For those who are diehard fans of the Aliens series and love the Xenomorphs as much as we do, we feel your pain. If Aliens: Colonial Marines was done in a way that delivered the game we all hoped for, then without question it would be fantastic and contender for game of the year, but instead for Gearbox, it's game over man. Game over.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Omerta - City of Gangsters

When you think of "Gangster" references in the media, you often get less than a handful of examples that would classify as great quality. Movies such as: The Godfather, The Godfather II, Goodfellas, and Scarface have defined the gangster role in our minds for decades. While these examples define top quality gangster movies, Omerta: City of Gangsters by Kalypso aims to become known as a top quality gangster simulation video game. There have been very few successful classic gangster style games, so will Omerta break the trend and stand above the competition to prove once and for all that you can have a violent turn based strategy style gangster game? Well let's find out.

From the beginning there are a couple things we would like to point out. First off the install size of the game is less than 900MB which means that either there is a wealth of content but it's microscopic and in many pieces, or that there isn't much content to begin with. After wandering the streets and trying to build an empire you realize that there is a ton of content packed into this little game however, a vast majority of the content is nothing that would help improve the game. The second point we have to mention is that Omerta is what gamers might call a "budget" priced title since it retails for $49.99. While the savings on the wallet is significant, please don't expect some grand or amazing classic gangster production that would make Marlon Brando stand up and applaud.

To start things off with a bang you are given a multitude of options in the beginning ranging from a story mode to a very simplistic multiplayer mode. When you select the story mode you have a chance to roughly develop your character and back story by making various choices to various questions. Each answer brings with it bonuses that apply to your character's stats but at the same time to increase the balance of the game, there are also stats that are negatively affected so make your choices wisely. After you make your way through your character development, you will go face to face with the greatest enemy of the game, the turn based world of Omerta. Think of this game as a turn based strategy game set in the time when prohibition was rampant and organized crime was just staring to... well, organize. From the top down view you have your basic camera controls which operate from the left and right thumbsticks and control things such as zoom and rotation. The problem though with this is that sometimes as you navigate buildings and the surrounding areas, trying to find good places to position your characters becomes a hassle due to the time it takes to properly align the camera.

The turn based control scheme also is something that feels like something that hasn't been polished up. Forcing you to zoom in to pinpoint where your character wants to go becomes an almost immediate hassle that unfortunately will stay with you throughout the entire game. If the control scheme wasn't enough to make you disappointed, the levels themselves will. In Omerta there are your buildings (gold building signs), independent businesses (green building signs), or competing businesses (red building signs). Your goal is simple, make these buildings turn to your color. Once you do that, nothing changes except the color of the sign over the building. This gives gamers a feel of pointless exploration, esp. when you have to manage a God awful camera system. To compound the problems already blatant with Omerta, the plot of the game is next to non-existent. There may be a few storyboard scenes with only a few lines spoken, but the majority of the time you will find yourself dealing with just a pop up screen that delivers a few lines of text and that’s it.

Now previous turn based strategy games have been assigned to a more grid style system which made maneuvering very straight forward and simplistic, and in Omerta that grid system is almost non-existent, which in turn, gives you the gamer more freedom to control your character and move them where you actually want them. This is handy when you start looking for cover to hide behind but becomes an instant and constant struggle when you combine in the already existing problems with the poor control scheme. So while this freedom is new, the execution of the movement failed to hit its mark. When you actually get to combat there will be multiple times when you wish you hadn't, and that’s a shame because you would expect such a game to have taken the development steps needed to ensure a top quality game at a budget price. Sadly though, the more you play Omerta the more you wonder if Kalypso had any staff devoted to quality.

There is an important question though you have to ask and that is: "Is there anything enjoyable about Omerta?" and the answer is the music, but only by a small amount. The reason for this is due to the classic feel of the music and the time period it puts you in, however, there are issues with this as well as during certain scenes and loading sequences the music would skip repeatedly and when you have a trumpet blasting over and over and over again, by the time the loading screen is done and you're back in the game, you're already given up all hope and are looking for another game to play.

Unfortunately the same people who brought the gaming world Tropico couldn't produce a quality title with Omerta. With such a monumental stack of flaws and faults and priced at $49.99 you wonder two things: 1) "Why isn't this game priced at $19.99 or below?" and 2) "What other games are out there that may be worth the $59.99 price tag that I could find more enjoyment out of?" Make no mistake, if you buy Omerta, you'll bring it home, play it for maybe a couple hours, then seal it in concrete and let it sleep with the fishes. It really is a shame when you can find a better quality game for less money and on the Xbox Live Arcade.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Dead Space 3

It often becomes a scary situation in and of itself when a company releases an original IP. Not only releasing an original IP, but an original horror IP at that. Visceral Games originally released Dead Space and almost overnight not only was a series born, but also a devout following of gamers from around the world. Following up such a classic success with another of greater impact is not as easy feat to do, but to do it not once, but twice, is a feat that is almost unheard of. This success is due to new innovations that take shape with each new release, and the overall development of everyone's favorite engineer, Isaac Clarke. Originally Dead Space 3's future hung in the balance of the performance of Dead Space 2, and it was up to the gaming world to let them know if they wanted a sequel. The gaming world spoke, and their message echoed through space with the force of a planetary explosion. It's time to keep calm and stop everything, because we're going in head first into the dark innovative depths of Dead Space 3.

Surprisingly, we actually start Dead Space 3 during the events and time when the markers were first found which take place before the events of the original Dead Space, and after a terrifying walk down that memory lane we fast forward to a time which is years after Dead Space 2 to find Isaac Clarke a shell of his former self. Mentally distraught and locked in a constant battle to retain his sanity over the influence of the markers, Isaac has lost almost everything he's cared about. There isn't time however for Isaac to come to terms with everything that has happened before he's violently thrown back into the horrors that he has worked so hard to repress, not just physically, but mentally as well. Throughout the campaign, which is quite long if we're honest, you will venture to explore areas such as 200 year old deserted warships and even the marker home world of Tau Volantis and one thing is for sure, every area goes to great lengths to provide one amazing pants ruining experience after another. While this has always been the backbone of the Dead Space experience, the real beauty of Dead Space 3 rests in the brand new innovations that help adapt one of the most iconic survival horror games into the oncoming future.

When games fail to innovate the gamer's experience, we tend to find an experience that leads us straight down the path of disappointment. Thankfully Visceral Games has taken this knowledge to heart and provided Dead Space 3 with some innovations both good and bad that all accumulate into a truly amazing gaming experience. One of these innovations involves the gameplay of Dead Space 3. While the tried and true control scheme that we have followed since the beginning remains as solid as it ever was; Isaac now has a summersault roll which will come in very handy as you find yourself face to face multiple times with multiple necromorphs. This small innovation packs a mammoth planet cracking punch as it actually deepens the gamer's gameplay. Another innovation to the gameplay comes in the form of allowing Kinect voice integrated commands. While other games have allowed this feature, just like the others, Dead Space 3's Kinect voice command support doesn't fit the feel of what we have come to know and love about the Dead Space games and ultimately, in the end, is more novelty than essential and does very little to enhance your Dead Space 3 gaming experience.

Not to be contempt with just providing a couple new innovative gameplay mechanics, Dead Space 3 brings to the table a whole new revolutionary upgrade system that affects, not just you’re RIG, but every weapon in the game. Gone are the days when you needed power nodes to enhance your weapon, but more important than that, is the fact that now you can make almost any weapon you want, so long as you have the materials to do so. Want to make a lightning chain gun on the top and have an explosive spike launcher on the bottom? Go ahead. What about a shotgun/sniper combo? Of course. Without question this new innovation will have you spending hours constructing and upgrading weapons from blueprints, or from scratch itself while you determine what works best for you. This upgrade and weapon construction feature can only be used though if you have enough resources to make it. Various components such as Tungsten, semiconductors, and more will be needed in quantity to make these new weapons come to life and thankfully there is no short supply of them, except Tungsten which you will find out is THE most critical material you can find.

While this innovation is masterfully done, there is a downfall though to this amazing new innovation and that comes in the form of microtransactions. For just a couple hundred Microsoft points you can actually buy all the material you need to create a devastating weapon right from the beginning. Unfortunately this method, while rapid and overpowering, will dilute the game experience which, in the end, is the most critical part of Dead Space 3. Times when you only had a basic plasma cutter to use against an oncoming onslaught of necromorphs are now only there if you want them to be. While the weapon construction and upgrade system is phenomenal, the microtransaction system leaves this innovation with a black eye.

As we all have known leading up to the release of Dead Space 3, there is a brand new innovation and involves the inclusion of co-op gameplay. This has been a controversial move since inception given the fact that Dead Space has always been a tremendous single player experience, and after the failed multiplayer of Dead Space 2, we find that co-op has taken its place and while it may sound entertaining at first to stomp necromorphs with a friend, there are some drawbacks to this as well. One of the interesting points is how the game itself adapts to include a secondary player. This is done by altering certain cut scenes and including new dialogue between characters and hallucinating sequences that will twist and warp any lasting memory of what reality actually is. That however, isn't the full story as we find that there are some co-op ONLY missions that are ONLY accessible if you have a second player participating. While there is less than a handful of co-op only missions, you get the feeling that you're, essentially, locked out of fully enjoying everything that Dead Space 3 has to offer if you decide to play through the game solo.

Whether you decide to play through Dead Space 3 by yourself or with a friend one thing is certain and that is you will find yourself going through insanely tense battles many, many times. This dark and twisted journey is brought to life in stunning beauty by depicting gorgeous environments that provide you small amounts of peace and tranquility amidst a seemingly endless nightmare of death and horror. There is however, one issue that has led Dead Space 3 down a path that ultimately hinders the game and that involves the music. Originally Dead Space had a minimal score which allowed gamers to hear more of their surrounding environment and thus adding to the "holy crap, what was that I just heard and where is it coming from?" moments. Unfortunately the sound of Dead Space 3 resembles more of a dramatic Hollywood movie score where you can get the feeling something big and bad is going to happen as the music climbs in intensity. This ultimately takes away from the environment around you which hurts the game in the end because the environment has always been a primary focus of Dead Space's appeal.

Without question Dead Space 3 delivers some amazing new innovations but in the end, you get the feeling that there was more focus on what innovations were to be included, than making what content that was in the game perfect. Make no mistake, Dead Space 3 is a fantastic survival horror game, but the setbacks that effect a lot of these new innovations hinder the game's overall quality and prevents it from developing into an almost perfect game. Moving forward, gamers want quality, not quantity and hopefully Visceral will learn from this if or when they decide to release Dead Space 4 and focus on scaring the crap out of us instead of culminating new innovations that detract from what makes the Dead Space series arguably, the king of survival horror.

If you are one of the millions of gamers from around the globe who fell in love with the Dead Space games, then you will enjoy the new adaptations and innovations in Dead Space 3 and while yes there may be some faults and flaws, Dead Space 3 is a must have for anyone who not only enjoys quality survival horror games, but enjoys quality games period. Always look over your shoulder, and remember to stay away from the vents. Keep your gun always loaded and your wits about you and you just might make it out alive, but what condition will you be in afterwards? Play Dead Space 3 and you'll find out...

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Skulls of the Shogun

When it comes to turn based strategy games, there is very few that stands the test of time and even fewer initially succeed. Stepping onto the field of battle is 17bit with their latest Xbox Live Arcade game Skulls of the Shogun, and it proves that not only is it a bad idea to backstab a ruthless and brilliant military general who will stop at nothing in the afterlife to have is revenge and gain the love of a top heavy female spirit, but that you can laugh hysterically while doing all of this. This is the story of General Akamoto who has led countless men into countless victories, only to be betrayed and stabbed in the back by your second in command. To rub salt into the wound, when our good General Akamoto arrives in the afterlife, he realizes that the one who betrayed him also stole his identity to command a massive blue army of undead warriors and rule the afterlife realms as Shogun. Now General Akamoto is pissed and vows revenge and dominance by conquering the realms of the afterlife and taking the title of Shogun from his second in command. It is time to recruit your own red army of undead soldiers who want nothing more than to kill things for you and in your spare time get you to autograph various.... things. Time to focus your warrior spirit, harness the soul of the Samurai, and grab something to drink if you're thirsty because the battle begins now!

Skulls of the Shogun is setup in a very straight forward design where you will progress through multiple levels with different layouts, item bonuses, and various magical aides all while fighting off a number of equally challenging (and sometimes downright viciously intelligent) blue enemies. Given that this game is heavily focused on strategy, there are a wide variety of soldiers to choose from in your army and each of them has their own strengths and weaknesses. There are infantry soldiers that have average defense and offense; there are archers that deal tremendous damage but possess the weakest defense; there are even mounted soldiers who possess a little bit better defense than the archers, but slightly less power.

Throughout the levels there will be various places that your undead army can haunt and while some provide rice (the game's in game currency), there are some that will provide you with magical creatures that offer a multitude of impressive bonuses from healing your soldiers to severely wounding almost every enemy on the battlefield. The point to the rice besides being needed for some amazing spellcasting is that you can use that to purchase more soldiers of your choosing from a soldier shrine. At the start of every turn, every rice patty that you have haunted will give you +25 rice and will heal any wounded soldier who happens to be standing on top of it. This is a plus since when you haunt anything you, in essence, freeze your character for one whole round and prevent them from counter attacking.

The game consists of battles over multiple rounds and each side is given a total of five commands per round. With a command you can select a member of your army and move them within the movement circle and while you do that you will see a secondary circle that follows your character shrink. This secondary circle is what will be leftover for movement if you perform an action. If an enemy is within range when you move, you can attack them and then use whatever is left of your movement circle to move to a different area. The key to all of this is balance and here's why. Actions such as attacking will allow you to move afterwards, but other actions such as eating skulls, or haunting shrines or rice patties will effectively end your turn instantly. When you combine the balance of movement with the balance of your soldier, then that is where strategy becomes absolutely critical.

While the depth of this game is surprising, it's not without its own style of beauty. Each level is done in a cartoonish feel with bold colors and vibrant elements that really stand out on the screen such as cherry blossom trees. While the sound is gibberish of noise that you would find in an early sim type game, the gem of the dialogue is found in the humor of the writing which will have you laughing throughout each and every stage. While Skulls of the Shogun is a game that might go undetected on your game radar, it provides a quality gaming experience that will be both challenging and rewarding. When you also take into account that the game also supports multiplayer, Skulls of the Shogun demands a lot of respect in the turn based strategy genre.

Overall Score: 8.2 / 10 The Cave

When you think of gaming companies that produce quality games and are still in business today, the list is not as long as you would expect. In today's day and age the true test of the quality of a gaming company is one that is still around and making great games today. One of those companies known worldwide for their work is Double Fine. They have released such titles as: Stacking, Iron Brigade, Costume Quest, Brutal Legend, Psychonauts and more. Now Double Fine has released a game called The Cave for the Xbox Live Arcade and they are hoping that gamers will find their treasure at the end of a long demented spelunking journey. Let's grab our mining helmets, some dynamite, and a canary or two and see just who will make it out alive as we take our first steps deeper into The Cave. (Insert evil laugh here...)

The Cave starts out with an introduction by the omnibus, wait, no, ominous, yeah that’s it, ominous narrator who is The Cave himself, or itself, or... can you even say "who" when talking about The Cave since, well, it's a cave? This voice is what will be your guide throughout different scenarios that you will encounter throughout the levels. This dark and twisted voice puts a humorous twist on watching you navigate and manipulate the puzzles ahead, and all the while you can't help but think its intentions are hardly genuine. In the beginning you are given a multitude of characters to choose from. Each character has a backstory provided through the narrator, but ultimately you must choose three of the characters and submit them to the tests and trials of the cave below.

You will notice from the beginning that the levels themselves are done in a spacious, multi-elevation layout where you will find yourself spacing your characters out at critical interactive points to solve various puzzles ahead. A vast majority of the puzzles will consist of having one character find an object that can interact with another object, but to get to that other object; you will secondly need another character to interact with some other item or obstacle to allow your first character to progress to their original goal. While it sounds confusing at first, you will find that the control scheme has been simplified to make things as smooth and streamlined as possible to allow easy navigation and access to The Cave's multiple levels.

Now given that this whole experience takes place inside a cave, you have to wonder what beauty lies beneath, and sadly the answer is not much. While the graphics are done in an almost cartoonish sense, it almost feels as though you are playing something that we've seen before over five years ago. The same can be said, unfortunately, for the sound. While the narrator's voice is humorous, there really isn't much that stands out as something memorable to your ears. While these dings may make The Cave seem a little "lack luster" there is an overshadowing fault that almost makes you want to light your dynamite and seal The Cave off for good. That fault is the lacking feature of online multiplayer. How can you expect to make a multiplayer game and not allow it to go online? This means that if you want to play with three people like the game allows, you better make room on the couch for two other friends, and that is the biggest fault of The Cave.

While puzzle platforming games attempt to seemingly reinvent the wheel when it comes to puzzles and how to keep gamers entertained for hours and hours, sometimes if you try and perfect perfection you end up with an abomination, and sadly there are too few redeeming qualities of The Cave to go up against the monumental shortcomings. Even though Double Fine makes some amazing games, unfortunately The Cave is not one of them. Throwing your Microsoft Points toward The Cave makes as much sense as throwing money out the window while you're driving on the highway.

Suggestions: Provide online multiplayer if you are going to have a multiplayer element to your game.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Sleeping Dogs

In the world of video games, various categories have arguable favorites. If you question a gamer about top sandbox style games, you will find that the list consists of Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption and less than a handful of others. This is because only a few games have managed to balance the harmony of open world exploration and action packed entertainment. Recently United Front Games and Square Enix have developed and published a title aimed at one thing, to be regarded as one of, if not the premier sandbox game. Originally planned as a reboot of the True Crime series, this game ended up being cancelled in 2011, however Square Enix saw the potential and thanks to Square Enix, we get to enjoy an absolutely fantastic and entertaining game. Now given the competition that is staring at it right in the face, does Sleeping Dogs shy away with its tail between its legs, or does it come out swinging in a nonstop onslaught? Let's take a stroll through some of the back alleys of Hong Kong and find out what Sleeping Dogs is all about. Buckle up; this is going to be one exciting ride.

The secret ingredient that all the top games in the sandbox genre share is a fantastic story. It's the story that keeps gamers glued to the set for days upon weeks and helps provide multiple reasons why you want to go explore such a massive map. The story of Sleeping Dogs is without question the gem in this game's crown. Yes you may have a lot of "favors" that you will have to do for the locals that will have you exploring all over Hong Kong, however the main story itself is done very, very well. From the beginning you are put right in the middle of a drug deal gone south and you come to realize quickly that you play the role of an undercover officer who walks a hazy line between upholding the law and succumbing to the other side of the tracks. Working your way through the criminal underworld of Hong Kong is essential for your career as an undercover Hong Kong police officer, but at what price?

Navigating throughout the massive city can be a bit difficult at times, and thankfully the control scheme of Sleeping Dogs allows some very fluid mechanics to help you out. Driving vehicles for instance, provides a very arcade style sensation by making quick turns and car control very simplistic and easy. There are successful gameplay elements though that really shine through and that rests in the hand to hand combat of Sleeping Dogs. Modeled almost exactly from the Batman Arkham games, Sleeping Dogs allows gamers to attack, throw, and counter with minimal frustration by incorporating one button controls. When you see your enemy glow red, press the Y button and your character (even with his back to them) will counter the oncoming attack with one of your own and open up the combat for continued assaults, throws, and more. There is through an unfortunate gameplay mechanic that tends to take the wind out of this enjoyment and that is our old enemy, the camera. Not only will you find it somewhat frustrating when tackling groups of enemies, but there are times when you are driving that you will end up cursing it entirely. This though isn't the only downfall of Sleeping Dog's gameplay. While the control scheme is fairly straight forward and very easy to use, the responsiveness seems to feel a bit sluggish at times and that can be irritating when you start various missions and without knowing it you vault over some railing and fail the mission.

Without question, United Front Games has worked diligently on the gameplay mechanics of Sleeping Dogs but what really helps make this game stand out are the various skill trees that you can level up throughout the game. The three skill trees are categorized by police, triad, and face. Each tree provides bonuses and unlocks for your character which can range from decreasing the damage you take, stronger melee attacks, disarming armed opponents quickly, and more. The way you unlock points to spend in these skill trees comes from your performance during missions. If you don't cause a lot of collateral damage and people seem to escape alive from your driving or shooting, then you will find your police meter increase. With that being said, to increase your Triad meter, you pretty much have to go to the darker side and take out anything and everything in your path. This whole leveling system incorporates a much deeper attraction to gamers as you will find yourself completing every side quest in an attempt to max out these skill trees and unlock everything for your character. This little surprise packs a serious punch when it comes to creating a game that will have you mesmerized for a very long time.

One facet of video games that have taken a huge leap forward in recent years is the graphics. There have been sandbox games that have blown gamers minds with the high quality attention to detail. Sadly though Sleeping Dogs isn't one of them. While the city itself is large in size, the graphics feel outdated and you can't help but think that while it would be a monumental task, if United Front Games had put just a bit more attention to detail, Sleeping Dogs would have been absolutely beautiful. There are some plus sides however as the character modeling and facial movements seem more realistic and border on the quality of L.A. Noire. Sleeping Dogs, while lightly slacking visually, does manage a good job with the sounds of Hong Kong. The voice acting is done well, and the variable soundtrack goes a long way to help bring to life such a vibrant and deep rooted culture. While not a knockout blow, Sleeping Dogs still manages to stay planted on its feet.

While playing Sleeping Dogs you can't help but to naturally compare it to the other sandbox kings, but when you add in innovations to the gameplay mechanics, all the other faults of the game tend to take a back seat. This is a great thing because the story of Sleeping Dogs is one that shouldn't be missed and with the upcoming DLC we can hopefully expect more great things from United Front Games and Square Enix. Sure it may not be Grand Redemption or Red Dead Auto, but once you get locked into the story of Sleeping Dogs, you will find such an in-depth and entertaining game. So what are you waiting for? Here are the keys, let’s go for a drive.

Overall Score: 8.6 / 10 Hitman: Absolution

Blessings my child, please come in. Here in this Sanctuary you will find peace and solace, and you look like you could use both. You have the look of a man who has walked a dark path for many years and has seen how black the night can be. Let me ask you a few questions. How far must one go to save a life? Would you sacrifice all that you hold dear to fulfill the dying wishes of a traitor you once called friend? How do you absolve a soul of so much agonizing pain? Let me tell you a tale, and maybe through this story, you will learn how to not only rejoice in the wonderful, but also confront the demons that haunt you head on. This is the story of a man. A man whose past is filled with darkness and death. This man is called not by a name, but by a number. 47. His life though, like yours, is not without hope of salvation but to do this, one must overcome their demons and only through this will they find their Absolution. It is time my child to hear the tale of Hitman: Absolution

What we see on the surface is but a mask worn by those in the shadows, who seek the success of their own agenda, but they have a problem, they pissed off 47. A byproduct of genetic science and a need for the ultimate weapon, you could say that 47 became a global problem solver under control from the Agency. Oh how things are about to change. Betrayed by those who he called friend, 47 uncovers some questions behind the motives of his employers and when no one wants to talk, 47 gets the answer. As silent as a shadow passing through the night, the Hitman series has seen a long and devoted following by bringing to life a character that fills our gaming desire for brutal action, suave one liners, and the most stain resistant suit ever seen in a video game. Being the 5th Hitman game on consoles, I/O Interactive and Square Enix have gone to great lengths to bring about new innovations to Hitman: Absolution.

The premise of Hitman: Absolution is fairly straight forward. 47 will navigate various enclosed levels and attempts to find his target and determine the best way to fulfill the contract. These levels offer gamers multiple styles of play which in conjunction with the level challenges equate to a very high replay value. One of the new innovations that you will find in Hitman: Absolution is the inclusion of a new instinct meter that allows you to, highlight targets and places of interest, foresee enemy movement, and blend in amongst enemies while in disguise and more. There are multiple things you can do to replenish instinct, such as: completing objectives, silently or creatively take down opponents, hiding bodies and more. While some of the devoted following the Hitman series may see this as a negative, I/O and Square have gone to great lengths to make sure that the core gameplay stays as close to the center as we have come to expect from games in the past. Being efficient, not dramatic is the name of the game and being quiet and stealthy will prove more beneficial to you than choosing to be loud and the center of attention.

The gameplay mechanics of Hitman: Absolution allows you to showcase some incredibly brutal forms of problem solving. Small QuickTime events allow you to watch 47 beat the ever loving crap out of someone, then with a push of a button, hide the evidence. When you have decided that someone is worth a bullet, you can call upon your instinct to allow you to go into Point Shooting mode and tag your enemy(ies) and with the press of a button, unleash a swift, but deadly barrage of bullets. This will undoubtedly announce your presence, but if you must kill everyone to remain silent, then so be it.

Showcasing for the first time in Hitman: Absolution is the brand new Contracts mode. In this mode you pick your level, target, method of death, clothes you must wear and more. Think of this like a game of HORSE where you get rewarded more for challenging contracts and extravagant deaths. Contracts mode also allows your friends to create contracts to send to you. This new version of multiplayer does allow you some variant of current mission maps, but in the end does very little to actually engage multiple people on a map at the same time and that’s a shame because other games have managed to do this well and this mode seems to be missing out on even greater potential.

To say that Hitman: Absolution is a beautiful game is an insult. I/O Interactive has worked harder than ever to bring 47's world to life like we have never seen before. Beautiful lighting effects abound through the 20 levels and the character modeling and interactions have catapulted into levels never before seen on any Hitman game period. While you are taking in the beauty visually, you will be surprised by the high quality audio of Hitman: Absolution. While the voice over acting is good at times, the real beauty is when you get into the busy crowds and you hear all the commotion going on around you. Having subtitles turned on is a plus as you may miss hearing information about some secret in the area, or information on your next target. This is exactly what Hitman fans have been waiting patiently for and thankfully I/O Interactive and Square Enix have done a job beyond any we could hope for as gamers.

So far Hitman: Absolution seems to have the makings of a fantastic game, but there are a few things though that ties 47's hands behind his back. The first thing that stands out is the story itself. As you progress through the various stages you'll find the story try very hard to become many different things. It's like the old saying goes: "A jack of all trades is a master of none." This is a great way to sum up the story quality of Hitman: Absolution. The plot tries very hard in multiple areas but ultimately in the end we are left with some pretty good attempts, instead of one amazing story. You read earlier about the new instinct system and that too is something that purists of the series may not take to so nicely. By allowing you to "blend in" with a push of a button, it takes away some of the challenge and the decisive actions that had to be made in the previous games. Another small gripe is the placement of checkpoints. Out of place is a good description for most while some would seem obscenely pointless as they are surrounded by many enemies. These checkpoints though can make the difference between a slight frustration and full on fury inspiring gameplay because if they are not activated and you have to restart, it's going to be from the beginning of the level.

Hitman: Absolution does deliver a solid experience despite a few setbacks and fans of the previous games should look beyond the faults and changes to find a quality gameplay experience that is truly entertaining. So there you have it my child, the story of a man and his life. While there were demons that he had to fight, he did fight and through his success we have Hitman: Absolution. Go now my child. You know what path you must walk and you know what you must overcome along the way. It is time for your own soul to have its own Absolution.

Overall Score: 8.6 / 10 Guardians of Middle-earth

Darkness stirs in the East. An evil beyond any could comprehend is poised to rise up from the shadows and blanket Middle Earth in despair. The time of peace is coming to an end, and in its stead we find the prelude to a war that will forever shape the outcome of all those who dwell in Middle Earth. It is up to you to answer the call of the hero, take arms against your adversaries, and drive the foul beasts back into their abyss! The moment of truth is upon us and only through your actions can victory be obtained and the evil vanquished from the lands. Victory in this war cannot be won alone, therefore an alliance of heroes will be formed and through your brotherhood will the darkness finally be vanquished. Hear the horn blowing. Answer its call.

Very few tales have been told that impact humanity on such a scale as Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. To grasp how much influence these two tales hold, you need to start thinking on biblical levels. Over the past half century, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have captivated millions of people through text, and when adaptations of these books cross into other forms of media, there is almost a collective holding of breath in hopes that the representations at least match the expectations we already hold in our minds. There are some works that do justice to the source material, however there are some that make us hang our head in shame. Now upon us is the Xbox Live Arcade game Guardians of Middle Earth. It should be noted that starting out, things look promising. Guardians of Middle Earth is published by Warner Brothers and developed by Monolith, and when you add support from New Line Cinema, Wingnut Films, and Middle-Earth, you start to get a sense of a true interactive masterpiece that will keep you locked in constant amazement.

As you set forth on your grand adventure, you will notice the sheer depth of the game before you. This depth is what will provide you with countless hours of enjoyment. For starters, there are multiple loadouts that provide different opportunities to base your character stats around your gameplay. There are multiple classes that feature a total of over 20 different Guardians and each offers their own individual abilities that can turn the tide of war in an instant. Your character will have access to relics that are based off of multiple support characteristics. It's in these relics where your gems will go that will offer additional stat or character bonuses. All of these make up what is known as your hero's "belt" which provide your character numerous bonuses and enhancements that can not only benefit your character, but your entire army as well. On top of this customization you will also have the ability to customize what types of "commands" you want to have at your disposal in the middle of battle. Various commands will grant your Guardian a quick boost of power that will decimate foes in front of you, or provide your troops healing powers to help keep them alive longer, and more. When you combine all of these elements with hotkey potion management, then you have the ingredients to make not just a fantastic MOBA game, but a fantastic game period.

Guardians of Middle Earth does do some justice to Tolkien's masterpieces, however, before you start getting too excited there are a couple of drawbacks. Now when we had the chance to review Guardians of Middle Earth, there were very few other reviewers online and nowhere near enough gamers to make a full room. This situation allowed those who were online and loving this game to charge head first into a really big issue with the load times. Since open slots in matchmaking will be filled with AI controlled characters, Guardians of Middle Earth takes two minutes to find a game. While two minutes may not seem like a long time, while you are waiting, it seems almost long enough to read The Hobbit itself. On a plus side though, once the game releases and many more gamers jump online, this issue with the two minuet wait time should be erased, hopefully.

Another issue that I have with Guardians of Middle Earth deals with the voice acting. While some of it seems to come directly from the audio from the movies, there are some voices that do not fit the feel of the characters. Take The Witch King for example, instead of having a sinister shrieking voice it sounds like his name is Phil from accounting. Thankfully only some of the voices are like this, but all of this combat brings forth another issue and that involves the levels you get to play on. You don't get three maps, or even five, instead you get one, and only one. Like the phrase says, one ring to rule them all and now you have only one map to rule them all. Given the iconic scenery throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, one thing Tolkien has always given his readers are dynamic settings from which all these events are staged. Unfortunately with only one map that never changes, the combat does get stale after a while.

"Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil." This quote sums up Guardians of Middle Earth perfectly. As an avid fan of Tolkien's works, great care must be taken to make sure that the quality of work presented does justice to the source material, and sadly that is not the case here. With a price tag of a hefty 1200 MS points, Guardians of Middle Earth tries very hard to justify a purchase, however the faults are unfortunately crippling. If more content as far as maps and arenas were initially provided for free, then it would be well worth the purchase, but for now unfortunately, wait till it goes on sale.

Suggestions: Please make sure that there is more than one map available for gamers. If at launch there is only one map, please make sure that you release multiple maps in the form of DLC where the first map pack (of lets say 3 levels) is for free. 1200 MS points is a lot to spend on a game where you play only 1 map and it would go a long way in showing gamers you want to provide content equal to the quality of work of the Guardians themselves.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 Pool Nation

"Fat man, you shoot a great game of pool."

If you're a fan of pool halls, tournaments, or just pool in general, then your choices for quality billiards for a while has been very slim. One of the most popular games around the world now comes to the Xbox Live Arcade with the release of Pool Nation. Priced at 800 MS points, now lets find out if it sinks the 9 in on the break, or scratches on the 8. Grab your chalk and line up your break as we take to the felt and find out what Pool Nation is all about.

One of the many beauties about pool is that there are tons of variants to the game. Thankfully Pool Nation does honor this quality about the sport by providing six gametypes to play in multiplayer which range from 3-Ball, to Golf, to Rotation and more on top of the lengthy 9-Ball and 8-Ball tour mode. Pool Nation does offer one new innovation to billiard games on the Xbox 360 and that is the introduction to Endurance. The goal is simple, sink all the balls as fast as you can and survive till the end, but you'll quickly learn that isn't as easy as it looks. Starting similar to 9-Ball, however, after the break, more balls are added to the table in random spots every few seconds. This mode will have you thinking quickly because the twist is, if there are a total of 24 balls on the table, the game is over. That means you have a starting limit of only 15 balls so timing is critical. There is a small window of hope though and that is what I like to call the time stopper. By completing various trick shots and gaining high pocket streaks, your time stopper meter fills to a point where you can actually freeze time temporarily and prevent any new balls from being in play.

While this new innovation goes a long way into breathing new life into this sport, the same can also be said for the graphics and physics. To say that this game handles like what you would expect from a real pool game is close to the truth. All the ball skill shots are available to use, so now you can work on your trick shot skills as you work to become the pool shark of Xbox Live. The balls themselves react as you would expect from a real world game, and when you add that feature to the ease of use controls, then you have the makings of a brilliant billiards game. You just heard me mention that the graphics are stunning, and when I say that, I mean jaw dropping realistic. Every aspect down to the fibers in the felt showcase a beauty beyond comprehension. The only thing that is missing graphically would be the inclusion of using your own avatar on Xbox Live and instead you are left with an invisible person holding the cue stick, but it's hard to focus on that while you're staring at something so mind boggling gorgeous.

The sport of pool has been around a long time, and many other games have tried to do it justice but have fallen short. Others have hit the mark and have quickly become the definitive title in pool. Now with Pool Nation for 800 MS points we get a wealth of content wrapped in a beautiful visual bow. If you are a fan of pool, then without question Pool Nation is a must have game.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Pid

Have you ever had one of those days where you wanted to get home, but for whatever reason, your space ship bus driver dumps you off at the wrong planet and your day just keeps getting worse and worse and all you want to do is just get back home? Neither have we. Apparently though Kurt is one of the unluckiest kids in video games because his day just started off bad and then the bottom kicks out and sends him on an adventure to get back home, but along the way he gets caught up in a conflict that threatens the machine residents who apparently can't fight off the evil around them. This is the nutshell for Might and Delight's debut platforming title Pid. Time now to fire up our beams of light and energy and shoot for the stars as we launch this review of Pid.

The heart and soul of any platformer has to rely on the game mechanics. The ability to challenge the gamer while still allowing them to enjoy not only the aesthetics, but the deeper aspects of Pid is a central focus in this game. The play controls allow for a very easy pick up and play feel, however sometimes they feel a bit sluggish and when you are traversing multiple different moving traps that can kill you in one hit, which could pose some issues. Along the way you will come across different puzzles and enemies that you must find inventive ways of dispatching to free your path. Some of the puzzles you face will require some depth of thought and even though there will be times of controller breaking frustration, there will also be many times of a great sense of accomplishment. Pid represents a growing trend of phenomenal platformers that balance challenging levels, simplistic controls, and an addiction to finally achieving victory.

Throughout the varying regions of Pid, your eyes are treated to an ocular sensation of overwhelming beauty. Each area is treated separately but they all provide a staggeringly gorgeous backdrop amongst the stars. While the character modeling is quite simplistic, it's in this simplicity that we find a visual cohesive gel that helps you visualize that you are indeed on this planet.

While the visual beauty of Pid is brilliant, the same can't be said for the sound unfortunately. If you can imagine a futuristic jazz style loop playing over and over again, you'll quickly understand the audio similarities in Pid. While the loop itself is done well, the amount of repetition will drive the riff deep into your mind, where you'll be hearing it in your head after you've shut the game off. The sounds themselves do differ in between the levels, however, it's a loop and nothing more which is sad when you think of the amazing sounds that you do get to hear. On top of that the voice acting is replaced with spoken gibberish, but I feel that serves as a double edged sword. On one hand, you don't have to pay voice actors and risk hearing some horrible overacted lines; but on the other hand, going with just a silent pop up dialogue screen would give gamers a classic RPG style feeling which would go a long way in helping this game.

Overall, you could say that the platforming genre has delivered some top quality entertainment, for fractions of the cost of some retail titles, and Pid is another entry in this short list of arcade greatness. For 800 MS points, Pid provides another amazing entry into the platforming/puzzle solving genre, however, is it worth it? Sadly no. The control scheme while good, could be tighter and more responsive, and the sound could use some touching up, however, if this title ever goes on sale, it is without question a must have if you enjoy platforming/puzzle solving games.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Halo 4

Cortana: Chief, take a look at this. I found this while deciphering code within the Forerunner intelligence network. It's a heavily protected file that if my decoding is correct, should shed some light on what’s in store for our future. Fancy a read Chief?

Master Chief: Always love good intel.

Cortana: Interesting.... It appears to have information from a site called XboxAddict which may be useful to helping us along the way. Apparently there is a lot of data concerning the overall qualities of our missions and the title of the report reads, Halo 4.

Master Chief: Talk to me

BEGIN TRANSMISSION
XBOXADDICT.COM
HALO 4 REVIEW

"Wake me, when you need me"

A long time has passed since we left Master Chief floating adrift amongst the stars, deep in a cryogenic sleep. Many Halo games have released since then, but no game has had more anticipation than Halo 4. For years we have waited anxiously to awaken Master Chief from his slumber and propel ourselves through the next chapter of this gaming masterpiece. It is time to rejoice my fellow Spartans for the wait is over. The time has come! As a new war approaches, it brings with it, a threat so overpowering it is beyond human comprehension. Humanity needs a hero. Someone who can overcome the unrelenting forces of adversaries to ensure that mankind survives. The time has come. Wake up John.

From the beginning Halo 4 opens up to a symphony of vocals, instruments, and visual beauty set against the backdrop of the wreckage in space over the Forerunner planet. With the push of one button, however, Halo 4 springs to life and shows you why the years of waiting for Master Chief’s return were worth every moment. A whole new user interface has been implemented which provides a very clean and ease of use as you go from menu to menu. Your beginning menus allow quick access to your Campaign, Infinity, Halo Waypoint, and Xbox Live Marketplace. In the campaign menu you will have the options as before where you can select levels, skulls, and difficulty. They say that the legendary difficulty is where a Spartan is born, and if they survive, become legends in their own right. The Infinity menu is where we find the heart of the Halo experience, and the beginning of your multiplayer journey. When you select Infinity, your menu choices consist of: War Games, Spartan Ops, Forge, and Theater.

War Games are your traditional multiplayer experience. It is here where you can chose between finding a traditional style Halo multiplayer game type, and creating your very own. There are many game types that we have all come to expect in Halo such as Oddball, Capture the Flag, Big Team, Slayer, and more so when it comes time to find a game, nothing could be easier. On the surface, the simplicity of the structure shines through, but when you dig deeper in creating your own custom game, you realize just how in-depth Halo 4 actually is. This new wealth of customization options is thanks to the new inclusion of the Forge toolkit at your fingertips, so now your imagination becomes your limitation.

Not only has Forge been expanded deeper into multiplayer, but when you enter the individual worlds itself, you will see that not only has your toolkit expanded, but the interface has been polished as well to provide gamers an easier time to create the worlds that they want. A big improvement to Forge rests on the new streamlined commands such as locking, and more importantly duplicating. With just a push of one button you can now duplicate objects over and over again. There is one feature though that will have Forge users beyond happy, and that is the introduction to magnets. This forever removes the need to line up objects perfectly through painstaking movements and alignments. Now you can have objects automatically align themselves and hold in place thus cutting down on the stresses found before.

Spartan Ops is brand new to the Halo universe and allows a different storyline to unfold that intersects with the story from Halo 4. These new adventures can be completed either solo or with friends and are released as episodes that shed new light on the Infinity after the end of Halo 4. Through these episodes you will become familiar with Infinity's Captain and crew, and you will also bid welcome to a new team of Spartans called, Majestic Squad. This brand new innovation to the series will ensure that Halo 4's story will always be evolving into a true cinematic spectacle.

Overshadowing all of this however, is Halo 4's brand new Spartan Hub. This new innovation to Halo allows you to access various features such as the Armory, Challenges, Loadouts, Commendations, and more. Loadouts is a new feature to Halo's multiplayer and gives you the choice of what equipment you wish to start with. If you want to start with a DMR, Plasma Grenades, Jet Pack, Ammo Boost, and Maneuverability, go ahead. First though, you must not only unlock the items, but you must also purchase them through Spartan Points (SP). You gain one SP every time your character ranks up but with certain items varying in cost; you may have to save your points for a few levels before you can buy the bigger toys. There are other new innovations to your Spartan loadouts and those are the support and tactical packages. These new options include features such as: speeding up your shield recharge rate, increasing the amount of grenades you carry, to increasing ammo capacity and improving sensor range. Ranking up not only allows you new weapon and support unlocks but also new additions to your armory. While some may want to jump head first, in Halo 4 you have to earn the armor you want wear.

When people call something beautiful it usually is because it makes an impact on us on some level. Someone may hear a piece of music and connect with it emotionally; another still may view a painting and make a personal connection with it. Without question, Halo 4's beauty goes beyond any word that could be spoken. Every level of the campaign is a wonder to behold. All the details from the towering Forerunner peaks against a blue sky to the very core of the planet itself are done to pinpoint precision and since every scene is interlinked by beautiful video footage, every moment in Halo 4 instantly becomes memorable. This is Halo like you have never seen before and easily sets the bar almost beyond reach of what is possible in the world of gaming. Earlier you read how the new user interface makes jumping between menus much easier and that is also in part to the graphic overhaul that it has received. Now large boxes indicate options to choose and since the interface is streamlined, finding things is now simpler than ever.

One factor that has made up the backbone of Halo has always been the music. Now when I start up Halo, I'm looking forward to hearing "the chant" and the following musical score by Mr. Marty O'Donnell; all you had to hear was "the chant" and you already knew what was going on. Now though, times have changed as Mr. Neil Davidge steps into the role of composing Halo 4's musical score and it took some warming up before it started to feel right. No more will you start Halo 4 up and hear the iconic monk sounds, instead you are serenaded with a seductively sinister harmony of vocals which help set the stage for the opening act of this latest chapter in Halo. Emotion plays a major role in developing a personal interactive relationship and the music is absolutely critical to get right. There are defining moments of pressure when the bass drum is beating away, driving you faster. There are moments of grand spectacles where fanfares of discovery go ringing through your ears. There are even moments that rock the Halo Universe to its core and the music grabs you and connects on a personal level. You can easily tell that Mr. O'Donnell will be missed by all of the Halo gamers around the world, but what rises from the departed is a musical experience that exemplifies every aspect of Halo 4.

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing we were unable to test the features and functionality of the new Microsoft SmartGlass application with Halo 4. It is currently available for Windows 8 and Windows RT PC's and tablets and some android products. Hopefully this feature will release soon across all platforms as this will help expand halo like nothing we've ever experienced before.

If you've realized that we have omitted everything about the plot, then you'll thank us latter because Halo 4's journey, while a bit short, provides one breathtaking moment after another and is a story that should not be spoiled in any way. In all forms of media there are characters that become more than just an icon, they become legends. Microsoft and 343 have poured their hearts and souls into making Halo 4 into the Halo game we have all been waiting to play, and it shows. The wait is almost over my fellow Spartans, we may have finished the fight but the war is far from over and because of that, Halo will never be the same again. Join the millions around the world on Nov. 6 2012 for the next installment of one of the greatest video game adventures that we will ever experience, Halo 4.

END TRANSMISSION

Cortana: From what I can tell Chief it seems that while Microsoft and 343 have given you all this help, surviving the Forerunners seems like a losing bet. How can you even expect to win this war?

(Loads battle rifle)
Master Chief: Stack the deck.

Overall Score: 9.8 / 10 Resident Evil 6

Here you are, fighting your fight against a seemingly insurmountable force. Nothing but death and destruction surround you while the shroud of corporate evil blankets your eyes from the truth. Every turn could be your last, and every door could spell your very doom. The nightmare that you thought was at an end has only thrown you deeper down the rabbit hole. Continuing the story of the world's most destructive virulent outbreak, Resident Evil 6 will take you on a dark journey of terror by bringing to life horrors that were once only our worst nightmares. This adventure is not for the faint of heart and it's an adventure from which your sanity may not return. As you wipe the sweat from your brow, calm your heartbeat, and steady your grip on your pistol, your hope for salvation intertwines with your quest for resolution and blinds you from the fact, that you have only two bullets left. Welcome to Resident Evil 6.

To uncover the reality behind the mist of deception, in your attempt to awaken from this nightmare, you will take part in multiple campaigns which consist of multiple chapters. Before you take your first steps you are offered the chance to alter various settings from: difficulty, which range from fluffy pink bunnies to pray to God; to co-op options involving Xbox LIVE connections or split screen, infinite ammo, and more. Now that the stage is set, and the players are ready, it is time for this hellish quest of horror and death to unfold.

The once herald king of survival horror games has had a very roller coaster lifespan. There were times when the game to play that will make your bladder lose control, your heart pound in your chest, and your forehead drip with sweat, was a Resident Evil game. Since its acclaimed "golden years" many have argued that Resident Evil has gone downhill in an attempt to become more modernized. Issues of the past include camera controls, movement and combat, and even with the horror element itself. Capcom has put forth extensive effort in an attempt to bring the undead horror series back to life, but like almost all zombies, all it takes is one good shot to the head to put it out of its misery for good.

When you play through the different chapters of each character, you will notice distinct differences that act as a double edged sword with this game. There are a couple of characters, whose story and gameplay bring out the classic Resident Evil feeling, however, there are also moments that will have you cursing the game itself. The plot behind the game requires you to play through the different campaigns while trying to piece everything together to complete the biggest puzzle of Resident Evil 6, the story. While it's nice to see a different take on Resident Evil's story, you can't help but think that Capcom could have done a better job with the delivery and not subject gamers to repetition. It's sad to say, but gone are the glory days when this game would make you wet yourself. Instead you will have your massive cinematic moments of shock, combined with a healthy dose of QuickTime events and after that, solve puzzles, shoot things in the head. While the play controls do differ in between character playthroughs, that doesn't mean that all of them are a success. It also means that Capcom has immediately subjected Resident Evil 6 to a massive, unavoidable fault, and that is no one will be happy. Back when you had the quality of the previous Resident Evil games, you had three types of people. Those that love the way the game played those that hated it, and those that thought it was ok. While that seems like a simplistic breakdown, ultimately, in the end, it's the truth. Now though, if you like only part of the game, then you run into the realization that you paid full retail price for a game you only like part of. This is unfortunately, one of the biggest draw backs of the entire game.

While there may be some major issues with Resident Evil 6, some of the biggest strengths can be found in the beauty of all the depraved horrors. The character textures and animation are painstakingly done to all the monsters which bring terror to life like never before and the lighting effects are done brilliantly throughout every moment and every level. Even though Resident Evil 6 is a graphic milestone for the series, it does pose some problems. Some of the character modeling of the monsters and your characters look purely terrifying, and even the new J'avo characters pose a threat that while deadly, turns out to become yet another disappointment within the game. The J'avo are able to use weapons against you, however, as you progress you will find yourself going into massive gunfights with multiple enemies and that is when Resident Evil 6, departs from a Resident Evil game, and becomes a mutated demon spawn that takes you away from one of the defining core characteristics of Resident Evil. Sure you may be witnessing all of this hellish action within stunning environments coupled with brilliant lighting, but when you turn a survival horror classic series into a 3rd person shooter, that's when you have a recipe for disaster.

You can't have a good horror game and not ensure that the sounds and music live up to the mark. Throughout the history of the Resident Evil games, the previous traits in regards to sound were: 1) Have ominous background music throughout the scenes to help build tension leading up to climatic events. 2) Have inevitable, "cheese" style character dialogue that plagues throughout the entire game. Now when we turn our focus to the new Resident Evil 6, your ears will be treated to more of the same. When you traverse each and every level your ears will be treated to a symphony of sound designed to do one thing only, and that's scaring the ever loving **** out of you. Then after you make it through these event scenes, you get rewarded by listening to corny, overacted, voice dialogues that immediately drop the tension and replace it with anguish.

Even though there are some massive issues pumping through this game like a raging old school T-Virus, some of the other modes such as Mercenaries bring new life into this undead franchise. Mercenaries mode grades you on your performance and will allow you to earn skill points which in turn, you use to upgrade your characters with such factors as increased melee damage or more health and allow you to even utilize them during your main campaigns. While Mercenaries mode brings forth some enjoyable replay value, the new Agent Hunt mode takes it right away. Using an almost direct knock off game mode, Agent Hunt could be classified as Capcom's Resident Evil twist on Left 4 Dead. While Left 4 Dead has managed to pull off this aspect brilliantly, unfortunately you can't say the same for Resident Evil 6.

When you get done taking in everything that Resident Evil 6 offers gamers, you realize that you are not playing a "true" Resident Evil game. While there are aspects that still remain from the franchise, when the core gameplay changes from what the series has always been about is a fault that absolutely cripples this game. There are some positives about the game, but they are overshadowed by continental sized failures and that's a shame because the gaming world is begging for Resident Evil return to their roots of delivering a terror experience that should come with health warnings pasted all over the box stating that playing the game could shorten life span, change mental state, or anything similar. Why Capcom has decided to evolve a classic survival horror game into a mere shadow of what it used to be is probably the biggest puzzle yet to be solved.

Suggestions: Please go back to the roots of what made the Resident Evil series the king of survival horror gaming.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Dishonored

There are men whose hearts are pure and find salvation in upholding justice for others while vanquishing evil, and then there are men whose hearts are blackened and poisoned by thoughts and actions of undermining those who would oppose their rise to ultimate power. The Empress holds her own council and trusts them to assist her in comforting and assisting her people during this dark time of death and decay. My name is Corvo and I am a high ranking official within the Empress' bodyguards. I have been dispatched on a mission of peace and aid from the neighboring lands, and upon my return, my world is turned on its head. I have been falsely accused by the Empress' advisers for the murder of the Empress and the abduction of her daughter! Send me away on a false mission of aid for our suffering people, and upon my return, they dare accuse me, Corvo, of killing the Empress and abducting her daughter, when the truth is that I'm made to be the scapegoat of their conspiracies for their own coup! Those traitorous, deceitful, conspiring officials! Now the townspeople of Dunwall are faring worse and the land is in the midst of a plague that is killing hundreds every day, and no cure has been found yet and some believe that there is a darker plot behind the curtain that has yet to be revealed. All I know is that the Empress' little girl has been abducted, and now it is up to me to find her and seek vengeance on those who were behind these horrific tragedies. It is time for me to make my own freedom, to silence those who played a role in constructing these events. My choice is my own; however on my path will I won't be alone. I once heard "To every man his choice, to every man his fate" and these vile, corrupted persons of power have taken away my choice, so now I will decide their fate.

When Bethesda sets off to create a world of deception, assassinations, stealth, and more, they look to some of the stand out qualities of other titles in an effort to combine everything that once was good and make it great. Dishonored possesses qualities that are reminiscent of other top tier games and magically infuses them together to create a world where your choice determines your fate, and the fates of others as well. Keeping to the viewpoint of first person, Dishonored, in a nutshell, combines the stealth of Deus Ex, with the brutality of assassinations from Assassins Creed, the character depth and beauty of Elder Scrolls and the innovation of gameplay choice where you control your own fate. With regards to the stealth aspect of Dishonored, you are given multiple paths to explore as you traverse the city on your way to your objective. This can range from scampering across rooftops, to navigating alleyways and back avenues, to even swimming under water through sewer systems. These alternate pathways can also grant you items to pick up such as health and coin, and can even give you some surprises. The stealth aspect of Dishonored is so open, that it is even possible to go through the entire game and not kill anything, not even boss characters. If however, you do get detected, it's time to dual wield weapons and powers, and fight to win.

In Dishonored, fighting is always an option and if you fancy yourself some dismembering confrontations, then Dishonored is happy to oblige. With the press of one button you can bring up a quick selection menu where you can chose what power or weapon or both you wish to fight with. As well you have the ability to hot key these weapons and powers to the D Pad which allows you to select them on the fly. When it comes time to fight blocking is your savior and counter attacking will lead to a cinematic death that would have even Mortal Kombat cheering away. Controlling your character is very responsive at times and everything you do in the game is fairly straightforward so getting used to running and sliding and traversing obstacles to climb to new heights is very easy to do.

There are some innovative tweaks to the character development system that allows Dishonored to make the experience more interactive. There are multiple types of character enhancement items that you can find throughout the city and every one of them allows you some form of enhancement or upgrade to your character's skill sets. For example, there is an ability called Blink which acts as an instantaneous, user teleportation power. When you charge the power up you will see an icon as to where your character will land, and even if your character will climb up when teleported. This allows you to scramble up onto higher levels and rooftops of the city and avoid detection from the guards, dogs, and traps patrolling below. This ability and other upgrades can be purchased or enhanced through the finding of Runes. Runes can be rewards from side quests, or scattered throughout the many areas of Dishonored, but once found act as a sort of spiritual currency which allows you to purchase new abilities and upgrade existing ones.

Every power grants you a surface benefit, but how it's applied in situations can determine whether or not you get a hidden bonus, let me explain how that works. There is a power called Bend Time which in its first level will allow you to slow time for a short while, and then when you upgrade it you can stop time completely while your movement isn't affected at all. Now on the surface this makes infiltration and assassinations much easier, but if you apply it in combat, you gain the ability to stop bullets in mid-flight and even collect them out of the air and put them into your inventory. Other character enhancements you can find throughout Dishonored are the Bone Charms. These small artifacts can bestow either good or bad things upon your character. Originally only a small amount of Bone Charms can be used simultaneously, however, like almost everything else for your character, the ability to hold more active Bone Charms is also available, for a price. Not only will you find health items, coins, and a massive amount of empty bottles while on your quest, but you can also stumble across blueprints that will enable your character access to future upgrades that normally would not be available.

One of the biggest innovations of Dishonored is how the game itself will adapt to your play style and base how the game unfolds on your Chaos rating. While Dishonored contains a moral choice code, the Chaos rating is based off of factors such as collateral damage and deaths that you cause, violent actions, and more and it's this rating that will determine mission outcomes and how the game unfolds before your eyes. This is where your choice ultimately effects everything about the game so when you play your game, you are really playing your game and not a scripted set of predetermined events and outcomes. This also plays a major role in how the game handles and manages its many optional quests. While some are off the beaten path and away from prying eyes, there are some that are built within the main missions as well and how you chose to approach these will also determine the future of your game in Dishonored.

The setting for all of this corruption takes place in the city of Dunwall which could be compared to London during the Black Death. The city is divided into those fighting over power and those fighting to survive and hope has all but been forgotten by the city's residents. Even though there is misery, suffering, and death all around you, Dishonored takes advantage and utilizes the Unreal graphics engine into producing what could be called an interactive piece of art. You really get a sense for the suffering when you witness acts such as guards throwing wrapped dead bodies off the bridge and into the water while people are begging for some form of salvation, and it's this visual connection that really immerses you into the peril of the city and the distinct differences between those with means, and those that are meant to suffer.

A key aspect to a stealth focused game has to be the sound. Not only must the ambient music make you feel like you are in the environment, but it must also cause an emotion throughout the game to help tie everything else together. Dishonored takes all these aspects and goes above and beyond how sound are implemented in the game. For a successful seize of control, one must have power, and knowledge is power. As you traverse the many avenues you will overhear guards talking which will gain you valuable information, providing you haven't killed them already. This is where the sound really plays to its strengths as you will uncover new quests; learn new ways to achieve your goals, and more. So not only do you have a score that makes you feel like you are right there with everyone, but it's through other areas of sound that you gain more options and knowledge of your surrounding environment and quest missions.

In today's world gamers are treated to countless sequels of preexisting, successful games. Usually when companies are struggling to develop something new, they can find quick cash by going back and releasing classic games with a slight upgraded feel. Bethesda though, continues to develop new and innovative games, and that attention to quality and detail shines through in Dishonored. There are very few games you can buy today that offer so many amazing aspects from other top tier titles while innovating new elements to provide a brilliant combination that depends on one thing only, your actions. What choices will you make? How will your actions be perceived by others? It's time to end the corruption, silence the crooked tongues of deception, and uncover the truth to the mystery of Dunwall's sorrows. The choice is yours to make, welcome to Dishonored.

Overall Score: 9.6 / 10 Jet Set Radio

There seems to be a habit forming amongst the video game world and that habit is releasing old games with an HD makeover. Sometimes this has paid off well and other times you think to yourself "what were they thinking?" Sega has stepped into the fray this time with the release of an old classic, Jet Set Radio. Originally when the game released it was plagued with many, many faults, however an almost cult following developed for the game and it quickly became one of those titles that you either loved or hated. If you have never played Jet Set Radio before, you should consider this like a more arcade style skater where you skate around different areas and spray graffiti on various objects and targets all the while avoiding law enforcement and trying to make your mark against other gangs. While this was innovative for the time, the game still suffered from lack of quality controls and with other skating games doing better in terms of quality, Jet Set Radio has always faced an uphill climb. Let?s take a look at the new Jet Set Radio HD remake for the arcade and see if Sega has either granted a gift to the loyal fans, or created something just so they can generate some cash.

As we kick of this review, the first thing that you will notice is the HD remake of the graphics. Jet Set Radio has always been cel-shaded to add a more feel and from the very beginning you will see that Sega has gone to great lengths to improve upon the graphics for the HD release. While the original Jet Set Radio was a graphic innovation in its own right, when compared to this latest remake, the difference is night and day. Make no mistake, every graphical facet of the game has been improved upon but sadly that can't take away the fact that this game still contains a lot of the faults of the original.

Back in the day, Jet Set Radio suffered from a control scheme that was supposed to be simplistic but ultimately in the end fell flat on its face when compared to other skating games. The main reason behind this failure in controls stemmed from the lack of a user controlled camera. In this latest release we find that Jet Set Radio has finally implemented a user controlled camera, but while this has helped somewhat, the control issues of past have come back to haunt gamers in a bad way. There are still issues with the camera (even though you can control it) and your skater still feels like he's a semi-truck skating on ice. Sega had a chance to deliver a classic experience and improve on the issues of the past, but unfortunately it only seems like Sega was interested in only improving the graphics.

Over the years we as gamers have had the luxury and benefit of innovations and improvements in all forms of gaming, however, in today's day and age we have come to expect that gaming companies who decide to release these classic games in HD provide the public with a wealth of improvements to enhance the joy and entertainment we all remember having. Sadly Jet Set Radio seems like a partial attempt to recreate a fun and enjoyable game, but the even more depressing news is that this game wasn't very fun to begin with and when you couple that with the fact that the game only offers minimal improvements but still suffers from the original poor control scheme and camera issues, Sega is betting that you don't remember how mediocre this game was to begin with and pick it up. If you're a fan, this should be a no brainer pick up, but only when it's discounted on sale. If you're not a fan, or have never played Jet Set Radio, do yourself a favor and avoid this game like you would avoid the police.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Kung Fu Strike

Remember classic Kung Fu movies from back in the day? They usually had a plot line that was less in depth than a story on the back of a cereal box and you could find better acting from homeless people begging for money, but one thing that these movies did very well was provide intense action fight scenes that quickly became the highlight of any film. With other fighting games found on the Xbox Live Arcade, Kung Fu Strike tries to cement itself as a serious contender for the fighting crown. So can this $10 arcade fighter go the rounds and fight off other competition such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur, and more? Well let?s find out. Round 1..... Fight!

The first round begins and already Kung Fu Strike is starting out behind the eight ball. By providing limited to no story, Kung Fu Strike gets caught with a roundhouse to the gut as it fails to keep the gamers caught up in the reason for all this fighting. There are no stories about having to defend your temple and honor against an onslaught of Kung Fu competition, no stories about rouge fighters and their love interests that turn into revenge. Instead you get a story that is so poorly developed that removing it completely would actually benefit the game entirely. There are storyboard style scenes that precede every level, but there is nothing that makes you shout at the TV about defending your honor or even care that you're playing this game to begin with. How nonexistent is the story? Well here's a better example of a good story line:

"Fighter's house burned to the ground, family died, he's the sole survivor on a quest for revenge, fighter finds very tall building and has to fight through various rounds to reach the top, fighter reaches top, big brawl ensues, fighter wins and avenges family, the end."

That story right there would be a better fit to this game instead of the limp wristed experience you do get to play. To put it plainly, Kung Fu Strike's story is about as exciting as watching paint dry. So as we end round 1 of this fight, Kung Fu Strike is already shaping up to be like its old school movie counterparts in the plot category.

Round 2 begins and this time Kung Fu Strike comes out with fists of fury by implementing a very simplistic fighting style gameplay. At your disposal you have only a few buttons: X - attack button (this is the button you will mash over and over again for hours), A - jump attack (if you find yourself pinned against a wall or corner, this could be the only thing to save your life), B - Deflect (think of this as a parry and stun defensive move where if timed right you can increase your health). With such a rudimentary system for fighting, your thumbs will be beating the absolute s*** out of the X, A, and B buttons so put your controller on notice; if you have buttons that have suffered years of abuse and heavy gaming, then putting it through its paces with Kung Fu Strike just may be the knockout punch that kills your controller. As round 2 ends, Kung Fu Strike's very straight forward fighting system shows that this game won't go down without a fight. Now let's take a breath and head into the start of round 3..... Fight!

As the bell sounds for round 3, we notice that Kung Fu Strike tries hard to incorporate iconic image scenarios from past movies. You have your temple fights in the courtyards, monasteries, and more. Unfortunately these tend to lack in any sort of substance and with other fighting games hitting with harder punches in the graphics and sound category, Kung Fu Strike tries hard but ultimately in the end falls flat on its face with a lack luster performance. This also exposes just how similar to an old Kung Fu movie this game really is. All the sound effects sound almost identical, just like the old movies. All the poor dub work doesn't really play into account, since there really isn't much if any spoken words. And while movies can take you to exotic landscapes and fighting arenas, Kung Fu Strike takes to you constant enclosed areas of mediocre graphics.

As the final bell sounds for the end of round 3, Kung Fu Strike is in a lot of trouble. Not only has the story actually hurt the game, but right before the bell sounded to end round 3, Kung Fu Strike got hit below the belt with the lack of online multiplayer. Do you have friends that like classic Kung Fu movies? If you do, make sure that they come over to your house, otherwise you will forever tread down the path of the lone warrior. Now the results are in, and after this intense battle does Kung Fu Strike stand strong? Not a chance. You can find more interesting stories on cigarette packages and better graphics in first grade art class. The controls are simplistic, however that means your controller will be abused harder than Tina Turner. It looks like Kung Fu Strike needs a few more years of training if it wants to compete for the fighting crown because as of now, the competition just beat Kung Fu Strike senseless.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Dead or Alive 5

The soul of a warrior may take upon different forms and lead one down different paths, but the fire and passion for victory that burns within is a constant reminder that every warrior must fight in order to achieve their goal. Tempered with both beauty and humility, there are very few moments in time when you can truly experience the unbridled fury of a warrior's spirit. Over the past decade many warriors have taken us down paths of both glory and despair, however, the time has come for one of the most iconic fighting games to return, Dead or Alive 5. Throughout history, very few fighting games have provided the strength and execution to deliver an unforgettable experience both inside and outside the arena and this time, Team Ninja have trained hard to ensure that Dead or Alive 5 will triumph over the competition and rule as the undisputed champion of the fighting game genre. Many fighters rush into battle, and are over eager to prove themselves in battle. Ultimately, in the end, this proves to be their downfall, however after seven years since the fall of DOATECH, Dead or Alive 5 is finally ready to show the world why good things come to those who wait.

One of the largest factors that will determine whether or not a fighting game can stand on its own two feet or get knocked out cold is the play control. Some games offer a direct system for controls, so if I were to say to you, "Perform a sho-ryu-ken" or "Do Scorpion's spear attack" you would instantly know what to do thanks to a very direct fighting system. Then there are those games that offer such an in-depth system of movement, fighting, and more that mastering such techniques requires almost as much discipline as mastering the actual martial art, and this is the category that composes the control of Dead or Alive 5. Early on, Dead or Alive 5 will be quite simplistic to just pick up and play, however, if you want to prove you're the best, then you must devote weeks, if not months (and maybe a controller or two) to the stick breaking training you will need to navigate in order to prove your worth in the DoA ring.

Such complexity can even be found in single categories within the controls, for instance, if your opponent does a high punch you have a couple of options for a counter. One option is to push back and press the hold button, but if you want to do more damage you could press forward, up and hold. It doesn't stop there because some holds will allow you to transition right into a combo hold where you can instantly turn the tide of battle in your favor and unleash unholy amounts of damage. All of this though, has to be done within tenths of seconds so this is where all your training will come in handy. Mastering the arts of all the warriors at your disposal will be your greatest challenge of Dead or Alive 5.

When a good fighting game comes out, it usually only carries with it enough content to be considered a worthwhile purchase. When a great fighting game comes out, it usually has a ton of characters and content that will keep gamers hooked for months and hopefully years to come and is considered a first day purchase. Dead or Alive 5 needs to be almost in a class of its own and considered a must have, for any fighting game fan. The amount of content is simply staggering. For starters you have multiple options to begin with. You have your fight men