MEMBER PROFILE FOR TheOutcast-XBA

Total Reviews: 15
Average Overall Score Given: 7.80000 / 10
Total Forum Posts: 94

Reviews
Voodoo Vince: Remastered

Rewind the clock to 2003, when Microsoft’s original Xbox making waves. This big black bulky console, with a built in hard drive (first of its kind), was just the start of what would be become the Xbox Platform. Along with the console came some Xbox specific games, and one such game was Voodoo Vince. I didn’t get the chance to play the game back then, as I was invested in the world of Halo, but I know many of my gaming friends who did and they enjoyed it. Well this 14 year old 3D platformer has seen a rebirth of sorts. Voodoo Vince Remastered was released for the Xbox One a few weeks ago as a Play Anywhere title (PC and Xbox One). It’s a full remaster of the original with updated visuals, widescreen support, and an improved framerate. So, how does this 14 year old remastered game feel in the realm of modern day gaming? Well, not too bad to tell you the truth, but it’s not without a hiccup or two.

The premise of Voodoo Vince Remastered is a simple one. It takes place in a twisted interpretation of the New Orleans. You are a voodoo doll in Madam Charmaine’s shop, and a group of goons are looking to steal her zombie dust. The job is kind of bungled and the baddies end up kidnapping Madam Charmaine while managing to spill some of the dust they were taking. This dust brings you to life, and your journey as a living burlap voodoo doll begins as you are tasked to collect the missing dust and save Madam Charmaine. The story is one that makes sense in this 3D platformer, and yes, it’s weird to be a living voodoo doll, but it’s a game that is meant to be fun, so what would you expect, right?

As this game is a 3D platformer, you’ll find the game broken into various zones, from a city setting to the swamps of New Orleans. Each zone results various gameplay elements, such as jumping, running, searching, and even playing music, as you venture forth to complete each area. For a 14 year old game, there is quite a lot to do in each level, ranging from traditional platforming, flying an aircraft, boat racing and even a mine-cart level, so there is more than you’d expect here. Of course you’ll be fighting mini-bosses and end-level bosses as well.

Vince has a set of combat skills to help him along in his journey including head stomps, punches and a spin attack. You’ll find that the punches seem somewhat weak, but when you consider that Vince is a voodoo doll, this kind of makes sense. You’ll rely on his spin attack more often than not. One of the really neat features of this game though is that Vince can harm himself (hey, he’s a voodoo doll that can regenerate back to life) which in turn harms others or helps him solve puzzles. For example, you can get hit by a large number of arrows only to have these same bunch of arrows hit your enemies or you can throw yourself into miscellaneous fan blades, shred yourself up into bits, and become material to weigh a switch down to activate. These deaths are kind of cute, in a cartoony way, as you’ll always come back to life and continue your adventure.

Along with all the action comes collecting. Yes, as you’d expect in a game like this you are tasked with collecting quite a few things. Now to be fair, you do not have to search overly hidden areas to find them, as the developer has been nice enough to make most of these somewhat easy to find. This takes away that false sense of gameplay length forcing one to have to have to search every single nook and cranny. There are a TON (caps put in for emphasis of course) of collectibles to collect too. You’ll collect Dust Bags (increase health bar every 100), Skull Pages (increase amount of energy for voodoo powers every 50) and Voodoo Icons (each one unlocks new Voodoo Power). In terms of the latter, there are just over 30 Voodoo Powers for you to open up, which are all very useful during the game, so you’ll want to make time to find them. These powers are only used when your Voodoo Power Energy level is at a point where it is enough to use the specific power, so you won’t be using them all the time. Smart planning for the use of these powers is needed.


Although Voodoo Vince Remastered is quite nostalgic, and has some charm to it, it definitely is not the perfect gaming experience. Sure, much of it has manages to move into the modern era with little difficulty, but some of the aged mechanics also cause a bit of grief. One of the most notable is the in-game camera. The camera seems to move too slow and you’ll find that at key moments it goes all wonky causing a few untimely deaths. You’ll definitely fight it for the right placement more than a few times. Another issue is that some of the ‘action’ controls feel a bit off too, and you may find such things as a double jump really an issue, so much so that you’ll you may want to throw your controller on occasion.

Voodoo Vince Remastered is strictly a single player affair that should last anywhere between 8-10 hours or so. Should you need to find the last of a few collectibles, then tack on a bit more time, but not too much given how visible the collectibles can be. The skill required to complete the game is not overly high, which is a good thing as it allows so many different gamers the chance to experience something from the original Xbox days.

Presentation wise, the game looks fairly solid, as it has been updated with modern day visuals in 1080p widescreen. Now, you have to remember that the game is 14 years old, and it was not designed from scratch for the Xbox One, but you’ll still find some pleasant graphics and effects littered about the game, just keep your expectations realistic. As for the game’s framerate, it generally does a good job, but there are times that you will notice some slowdown. It doesn’t affect the overall gampelay, but it definitely noticeable for sure.

In terms of the sound, I have to say that Vince himself was fairly well voiced, and all the supporting voice actors and sound effects make the game what it is. You will find a few instances when Vince looks at you from the screen to give you a wiseass crack that is context specific too. What I really enjoyed personally though was the jazz based soundtrack. I am not a jazz fan in anyway, but given the setting of the game, the music really suited the in-game locations and action, and it was a nice little treat. I am sure some may disagree, but my opinion is such that it wasn’t that bad at all and added to the game experience.

Overall I would say that Voodoo Vince Remastered is a fairly solid remaster, even with a few issues brought forward by its age. Sure, the camera is slow and out of whack at times, the framerate slows down now and then, and the control can be problematic here and there, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. What are these positives you ask? Well, how about updated visuals, good music, easy to find collectibles, varied gameplay, the addition of achievements, and a price point that doesn’t gouge for a remastered game. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think the price ($14.99 (USD)) is pretty damn fair for what is offered here. For those gamers who never experienced Voodoo Vince on the original Xbox, and even those who did, feel free to check out this remastered version and take a trip to days of the original Xbox and a game that showed how enjoyable the platform could be.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition

I did not play Bulletstorm when it released in 2011. It was a new IP that was developed by People Can Fly and EPIC games, the latter being the company that created the Unreal Graphics Engine. It was an FPS game that just didn’t interest me even after all the PR hype and trailers were released. Fast forward to 2017, it seems that People Can Fly want gamers to have a second chance to experience their game. Bulletstorm: The Full Clip Edition is a remastered version of the 2011 title with a few added bonuses thrown in. So, without any reservation I thought it was time to see what all the hub-bub was about six years ago, and simply put, I can see why so many people enjoyed it.

You take on the role of Grayson Hunt, leader of a ragtag squad called Dead Echo. You were once a government funded “hit squad” under the direction of General Serrano. During the game’s first couple of stages you discover that General Serrano wasn’t totally honest with you and that you were basically doing his dirty work, as he was misleading you to kill innocent people. You have a chance to avenge the lies and deceit that were thrust upon you and your squad, and it’s this lust for vengeance that fuels the story, particularly why you find yourself on the abandoned resort planet of Stygia where you crash landed and are now looking for way off. It also plays into how your sidekick, a cyborg named Ishi, came to be and why he fights alongside of you.

What is great is that the story starts right from the start, and it’s all playable, not just some cutscene or two. There are a few twists and turns during the story’s 7 Act campaign, and I enjoyed it. Sure, it’s not a Pulitzer Prize winning narrative, but what many people have to understand is that the game does not take itself seriously, even though you’ll find some serious messages in it. This is evident from the dialog that takes place throughout the whole game. Yes, it is juvenile, and not for the ears of young ones, but it doesn’t try to be something else during the game, as the one liners, full of cussing and inappropriate jokes, are the mainstay of all the character’s banter. Some lines may make you cringe, if not from the ‘raciness’ of the comment but to how cheesy it may be.

One-liners aside, it really comes down to the gameplay and how Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition feels. As an FPS game, I was quite impressed with how smooth the game felt. The controls are good and aiming/shooting is pretty spot on. If I had one complaint it is the cover button, which is assigned to pressing down the left analog stick. I wish the cover would ‘lock’ so I did not have to continue holding the stick down. Minor complaint in the big scheme of things though. Overall the game’s control helps make the game what it is, as it’s a fairly refined experience.

One of Bulletstorm’s main features is that you have an ‘instinct leash’ along with a ‘boot to the face’ attack, and by using these tools, along with the various weapons in the game, you can dispatch enemies in creative fashion. This is a main attraction because it fuels the “Skillshot” system. This system rewards you for how stylish you kill your foes, and you can buy upgrades for your weapons, charge shots, as well as more ammo. These kills aren’t only weapon related, but environmental too. Nothing like grabbing an enemy with your leash, pulling him to you, and then kicking him into a cactus or venus-flytrap like plant to kill them off.

As you get more weapons (you can assign two special weapons to the left and right d-pad, while having the standard machine gun always available) different skillpoint shots open up. You’ll come across DropKits that allow you to upgrade your weapons and see the skillshots that you can be rewarded for in terms of weapon kills and environmental kills. The list is LONG as there is a lot of ways to kill your enemies, and some are VERY creative. Don’t worry though, as you don’t have to do every skillshot in the list to have fun with the game, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

When playing the single player campaign on normal mode I managed to get through the game in about 7-8 hours. I did this over a weekend, playing when I had time away from my kids. There was a time or two where I thought I was nearing the end, but it wasn’t and there was still more to play. I found myself enjoying the experience all the way through too, from exploring the environments to finding new and gruesome, ways to kill the enemies I faced. There were times that I felt the game might get repetitive for people, as you may rely on just killing in the same fashion for stretches at a time, but overall the pace of the game is intense enough, and there is a nice mix of things to do (e.g. use a chain gun during a railcar sequence or control a remote control dinosaur-like robot and lay waste to enemies) that the game itself never gets too stale.

If you’re looking for more than the single player campaign, there are a couple of different modes in the form of Echoes and Anarchy. Echoes has you playing in a specific part of a campaign level, earning a score. This part of the map plays out like that in the full campaign, so you’ll be fighting the enemies like you did in the story, but in small snippets and to place on a leaderboard. Anarchy on the other hand is a horde-like cooperative mode. Here you must beat a target score in order to continue, and to be successful you need to comple team-based skillshots. For example, one player kicks an enemy into the air while the other kills him with a well time shotgun blast. You’ll be able to use your environments, for even higher scored skillpoint kills.

As this is edition of Bulletstorm is called “The Full Clip Edition”, there are a few bonuses that come with it. There are six new maps added for the above referenced Echoes mode, and all of the DLC that was included in the original game also comes included. There is also a new game mode called Overkill. This opens after completing the single player campaign and it enables all weapons and skillshots from the beginning of the game. If you manage to pull off all the skillshots for certain, or all, weapons during your initial playthrough, you get unlimited ammo in Overkill Mode for that particular weapon.

One of the biggest additions comes in the form of Duke Nukem’s Tour mode. You’ll play through the whole campaign, but instead of the role of Grayson, you’ll take on the role of Duke Nukem himself. It’s a pretty interesting concept given that all the dialog that is supposed to be Grayson’s is now Duke’s, and there are Duke specific dialog to be heard throughout that is not heard in the original campaign. It’s unfortunate for us here at XBA as we had to delay our review to check out what Duke had to say in the game given that the DLC would not open until the actual launch day on the Xbox One. But you know what, waiting to play as Duke was somewhat worth it and it added to the second time I played through it. It’s a nice addition to the game indeed, but do note, you had to have pre-ordered it to get it with the game and if you didn’t, it’s worth $4.99 on the Xbox Store. We have been contacted by the PR company who state that dev-team People Can Fly are aware of some lip-syncing issues with the Duke dialog, and we have been told that they are working on a patch to fix it.

Presentation wise, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition holds up quite well. The visuals look somewhat enhanced and like they belong on the Xbox One. On the other side of the coin though, you will find some textures that are indeed a throwback to the Xbox 360 days, as well as some character animations at times, including during cutscenes and some gameplay. It doesn’t ruin the atmosphere of the game, as it’s a pretty good looking game overall with long draw distances, good level design, and interesting character model choices, it’s just that the game is 6 years old for goodness sake. But don’t let that fool you, technically it’s solid as I only ran into about three instances of slowdown and no major issues beyond that. As for the sound, I played using a set of headphones as I didn’t want my kids to hear the game. The audio is pretty good. It’s directional with great weapons sounds, good environmental effects, and I actually enjoyed the juvenile banter that went on between the characters. As for the music, it really matched the on-screen action, especially when you are in a heated battle with many enemies.

Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is a solid remaster and is a game that many should have some fun with. It has enjoyable gameplay, visuals that manage to look good, control that is spot on, and the experience as a whole is fun. As a game experience, it’s definitely worth picking up, but I find myself having difficulty telling you to buy it at the full price of a new retail game. If you can get a deal on it, pick it up without question; however, if you’re on the fence, it might almost be worth waiting, given the full price you’ll have to pay for a remastered game.

Overall Score: 8.2 / 10 Riptide GP: Renegade

I enjoy a good water based racing game. I remember when my then girlfriend (who is now my wife) bought me Wave Race 64 and the memory expansion pack for my N64. I loved that game, as it was my first true jet-ski racing game. The physics and look of the water was amazing at the time and I played the game for as many hours at a time as I could. One of the more memorable ones since then was Hydro Thunder. I spent many hours playing it on my Sega Dreamcast, and I also played Hydro Thunder Hurricane on my Xbox 360 when it was released in the Xbox Live Arcade. Well, a game with those kinds of experiences has been released on the Xbox One. Developer Vector Unit, who made Hydro Thunder Hurricane, have made a game with consoles in mind. Riptide GP Renegade was released a few weeks ago. PS4 owners have had the chance to play this since 2016, but it is a new game to the Xbox One platform and I am here to give you my opinion.

First things first, Riptide GP Renegade provides a story. This was somewhat surprising given the fact that I just thought I’d be arcade racing through the water against other racers. The story is not deep, but it does have a bit of meaning. You are a champion hydro jet racer who was set up by another racer who was jealous of you, and you spent two years in jail for illegal racing. You are now out of "The Pen" and are looking to take down the racer who framed you as they are basking in the glory of being the new champion. You must start in the in the ‘beer leagues’ so to speak, as you race illegally to gain new team members, make a new name for yourself, and eventually get a chance to challenge the racer who cheated you out of your glory.

Career mode is the meat of Riptide GP Renegade. Here you’ll chose a racer (male or female) and have some customization options, from color scheme, number, to a decal or two. It’s nice to make your racer your own so to speak. Being Canadian I tended to keep to a red/white color scheme that would make my country proud. You knew it was me racing, that was for sure. Oh, ADHD moment here, did I mention that this game is a Play Anywhere title, so feel free to play it on your Xbox One or your PC, as you can do either as progress carries over to each platform.

Speaking of racing, you’ll be racing a lot given that there are well over 180 events for you to do. The events are found in stages, and you’ll be going through various stages that have multiple events for you to complete. There are story related stages, and then there are some side quests. These side quests are found in your career mode, but they are not necessary to complete as they just add some background to other characters. With all this being said, the number of events is insane. The event modes range from straight out racing, elimination (last place during specific time period is eliminated), freestyle (stunt mode) and slalom (race between markers – best time and least number missed). To say you won’t be doing much would be a lie.

The biggest issue with the number of events though is no matter how different, and how many there are, the fact is that you’ll be doing them on a limited number of tracks. There are around nine or so tracks, and as you race through the large number of events they can start to repeat quite quickly. I personally wish that there were more tracks, maybe a minimum of 15 or so, given how many times you’ll find yourself on each one. Some of you out there may feel like the racing can be a grind now and then, and to be honest it can, but it’s bearable as the tracks are very well designed.

Yes, the track design is solid, and some of them are quite alive as you race on them. The one thing that really struck me is the water effects and how good the hydro jets look cutting through the H20. Each track is its own area too, from flooded cities and city park waterways to those that make their way through, and under, a futuristic city or are found in desert setting that houses a submarine base. You can’t say that the dev-team didn’t try to get creative. Within these tracks are various branches, and even hidden shortcuts, and you will find many areas to pull of stunts that power up your ‘turbo’ to get you that extra boost of speed. There is a lot of stuff going on too, as each track has various environmental themes, such as stormy waves, city traffic moving above, or a warehouse beaming with activity. Oh, and should you search you’ll find an easter egg, yes, a literal easter egg, on each track, just look hard for it.

If there is one thing that is evident in this game, it is the competitive curve. This is how aggressive the AI can be when racing. You’ll find that the AI will put up quite a battle, even early in the game even when in normal mode. This is even more evident later in the game. Upgrading your hydro jet is imperative, and getting new ones, and upgrading them, is just as important as you progress through the game. You can place anywhere from 1st to 3rd and earn stars, and by doing so you open the next event, and then when you have enough stars, and events beaten, the next stage of events opens. As you find yourself racing in the latter stages your room for error is much more narrow and you’ll have to race an almost perfect race, which we all know is not always possible. So be prepared for a bit of “agony of defeat” now and then, and just take it for what it can be, a very competitive experience.

Should you want a break from the world of single player, there are a bevy of multiplayer modes to play, from local (split-screen) to online racing. In regards to the local racing, to be able to play with a few friends sitting in the same room, split-screen, is a throwback to gaming of old. And surprisingly the framerate holds up with a few players playing on the same screen. Of course you can head online to race too, and although I didn’t get too many races in online, the experience wasn’t that bad at all and online racers may be able to find a race or two to keep their interest. Having both online and local multiplayer races is a great addition and something that people should definitely consider.

Presentation Riptide GP Renegade is good. As I mentioned earlier, the track design is solid. The graphic engine that powers the game runs smooth and there were nary, if any, technical issues to be found. Given the entry price of the game ($9.99), you’d expect a budget title to look like a budget title, but this game looks above that. Sure, it’s not a triple-A looking game, but it doesn’t look bad either. As for the sound, the hydro jets sound like….well, what a hydro jet might sound like. I dunno, I have never seen one so who am I to judge, but the overall sound effects, from vehicles to that of the environment, sound pretty good and get the job done. The music is EDM like, and has a good beat which suits the futuristic time period of the game, but you’ll find that it becomes repetitive after a while as you race the same tracks over a long period of time.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Riptide GP Renegade. Given the price of admission, this water based racer offers a long single player mode, and some local and online multiplayer racing that can be fun too. Sure, it’s not the most perfect racing experience, as it can feel like a grind at times, and the AI is as tough as nails to race against more often than not, but these points don’t take away from what the game does well. For those looking for a different racing experience, and one that won’t break the bank, take a long hard look at Riptide GP Renegade, and for those non-racing fans out there, you should also take a look at this game too, as the price is right and it is a fairly enjoyable racing experience.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 Spheroids

When asked to review Spheroids, developed by Eclipse Games S.C., I was a bit hesitant as I am not what one would consider an expert when it comes to playing platform games. I enjoy them, but I admit that when it comes to mastering them can struggle more than I wish. That being said, as I played Spheroids I found that I was pretty successful in my efforts to make it through the game, and low and behold, I didn’t suck too much. But I know that many of you platform game fiends out there are wondering: Is Spheroids going to be worth the time and money? Well, that just depends on what you are looking for.

You take on the role of Lucas, a good young Canadian kid. Lucas is tasked to help his friend Otto, who happens to be a scientist. One fine day an alien form, called Spheroids, decide to leave their alternative universe to try to take over ours. It’s a simple story that is played out through various cutscenes between 8 different areas. The cutscenes are more focused with the places that you end up going to defend and introducing you to new forms of Spheroids. The 8 areas that you will find yourself venturing through include Japan, Brazil, Egypt, Russia, Kenya, India and Greece. There is one more area for the game’s final battle, but I am not going to tell you as it will be your job to find out yourself.

Each level within an area has a simple goal, use the tools that you are given and clear out each area as you make your way from start to the finish of said level. You’ll be popping Spheroids with your “modified drill hook” as you jump, hang, and roof walk your way through 32 levels spread out across the 8 areas. The thing that most diehard platforming fans will note, and even casual fans, is that the it does not push one’s gaming limits to the max. It is a strictly go from point A to point B with very few puzzle elements, and what puzzle elements you do run into will not tax your brain power as you’ll find them very straight forward. The reason I say this is that I found nothing in this area to be difficult, and you all know from my statement above that I am not an expert at these games.

One of the neat features is that different Spheroids are introduced as you make your way through the game’s levels. As you begin you’ll find yourself facing the most basic of bouncing Spheroids, but the further you get into the game the more different Spheroids you’ll come across. There are those that split multiple times and there are those that will split and if you don’t dispose of the smaller Spheroids that are a result, they will join up and become ‘whole’ again. There are also those who need to be hit multiple times before they die (these also split into smaller Spheroids), there are those that come down quicker than any other, and finally you’ll find some that can’t even be shot in the first place. Sure, the game may not be that difficult, but experiencing the different types of Spheroids as I made my way through the game was kind of nice.

Another neat feature of the game is that it introduces a couple of new gameplay mechanics as you get into some of the new areas. Of note is the use of a grappling hook and the introduction of anti-gravity boots that allow you to walk on ceilings. What I found with these mechanics was that it added a new way for me to save my ass more than a few times. It also allowed me to be kind of creative in some of my approaches to various areas of the game, using my anti-gravity boots in ways that may not have been intended. If I should note anything here it is that the grappling hook was not always as accurate as I wished. There were more than a few times that I went to grab one of the designated areas with the grappling hook only to have it target another one further down the screen. I was able to adjust to this fact, but given that this one mechanic was not has accurate at it should have been it caused a bit of a misstep now and then.

There was one gameplay mechanic that reminded me of another ‘retro’ style game that I played way back, and that game is Mutant Mudds. In Mutant Mudds you had the ability to teleport into the back or foreground to complete various parts of a level. In Spheroids you will come across teleporters that let you go into the background to access switches, enemies, and collectibles. This aspect of the game was very Mutant Mudds-like, but it was also done in a way that continued to add to the charm of the game.

So, I have mentioned a few times that Spheroids is not particularly a difficult game, and yes, the 4-6 hour adventure it isn’t hard, and that is due to a few things. The first is that the check points in each level are plentiful. If anything, they are somewhat predictable too in such that once you reach a check point you know that you are about to head into a challenging (if you can call it that) part of the level or just about at the end. Another key factor here is that if you kill only a few enemies in a part of a level that is littered with them, and you die, those enemies stay dead and you don’t have to worry about facing them all again. The ones that are left alive are the only ones that will be there when you respawn and get to that part of the level again.

The game also has an in-game store (in the form of an arcade cabinet) at the start of each level. Here you can upgrade your character (e.g. extra health) or you purchase in-game items with in-game currency that lasts as long as you stay alive in the level (e.g. double hooks). I know that I purchased a double hook on many occasions as it allowed me to fire much quicker and pop many more Spheroids than if I was only using the single hook. The big question for many though will be is there need to purchase items or are upgrades necessary? For some, like me, maybe, but for the hardcore platforming fan, probably unlikely, but just the fact that it’s offered makes it worth something.

I for one am getting weary of the whole ‘retro’ graphics in indie games. Although I know there is a need for developers to keep costs low and not put all their funds into visuals, I can’t help but tire of so many 8 or 16-bit style games. That being said, I actually kind of enjoyed the retro look of Spheroids. Maybe it was the fact that each area was created so well to match the areas they were representing. One such area is Japan, as you go through the level it is has Cherry Blossom Trees and pink petals flowing through the air from those trees. Greece was another area as the blue and white color scheme was well represented on the various Greek like buildings that were in the background. Eclipse games seemed to really put some effort in the retro-style and I kind of liked it, which was a shock to me.

As for the audio, you’ll come across sounds for the various Spheroids, and there are some light environmental sounds too, and of course there are sounds of the weapons and tools that are at your disposal for this adventure you are taking on. There is no voice acting at all, as the cutscenes, which take place in Otto’s lab, consist of chat bubbles with fast moving text. The music is best described as some upbeat techno-like sound. It is all right during the start of the game, but it varies so little throughout that some will either tune it out or turn it off.

Spheroids is a cute looking and very playable platform game, unfortunately it hits a few bumps as it’s hampered by how easy it really can be, and the fact that it’s not as long as some might hope. There is no doubt that casual fans of the genre, like myself, can feel like a platform game king when playing; however, diehards of the genre will find I way too easy and should only apply they need a much needed break from the rest of the games out there right now.

Overall Score: 6.7 / 10 Moto Racer 4

During the past few days I have been playing the latest game in the Moto Racer franchise, simply titled Moto Racer 4. Selling for a price of $39.99, this game has recently been released in N. America on Microsoft’s current-gen console, and for better or for worse it’s the newest two-wheeled racer for fans to play. So, is it worth the time or should you pass it up for something else?

Right off the hop, and as briefly mentioned above, this game leans towards the ‘arcade’ control type of game, and it is as far from being a simulation experience. There is no realism here as the tracks, racers, and the racing itself, is all about speed, tricks, and pulling of some crazy moves while speeding down the track. You’ll be racing on two different types of motorcycles, street and dirt.

There is a career mode, but there is no story attached, you just get to pick a racer and go through the various chapters/stages. You will see a small paragraph for each event, within each chapter, that tells why you are competing in that specific event, but nothing more, nothing less. If there is one thing that I noticed right off the get-go it is that your racer looks very much like a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger. It’s kind of crazy, but it’s true. Each racer has their own set of stats, from control, speed, acceleration, etc., and it will be up to you to find the one racer that suits your racing style. You can customize your racer and ride with various color variations too. Each bike can be upgraded as you race as you will earn skill points; however, each motorcycle has a maximum setting of its own in each area, so you won’t ‘max’ out your motorcycles in all areas.

During the career mode Moto Racer 4 does something that I found to be a great idea, and that is it lets you choose what level of the objective you can target. It is based on a three-star system, but you choose which level of stars you aim for. For example, you can choose to finish first or third in a race, or you can choose to beat one of three times in a time attack race. It’s a neat little system as it allows you to dictate what you think you can or cannot do. It also allows you to succeed when you think you might not, and as you get better you can come back and challenge the harder objectives to earn even more stars in total.

The career mode itself has 10 different ‘chapters’ with some of them branching in various directions. You advance to the next chapter/stage by earning the stars that you get when completing events. Within each career chapter you’ll find events/challenges and they can vary from time attacks, straight up races, reaching check points for ‘x’ amount of time, slalom races (dodge between vehicles), elimination and even one called “Catch Your Prey”, which is where you are ‘x’ number of meters behind first place and you must catch up to them. You’ll even find some of the challenges rely on using a specific racer than the one you might be using. You can also earn ‘style’ points as you compete in the various events too. Overall there is a nice smattering of different events for you to race or challenge, and it will keep you busy for a little while.

The AI is a mixed bag. I found that after choosing the right rider and motorcycle, learning the tracks, and figuring out when to hit the wheelie button (think turbo boost) that I could match or beat the objective that I set. You can also get aggressive and knock other riders off the track should you want, but I found I wasn’t too successful when I tried, maybe I just wasn’t good enough at the angle of the hit, so to speak. There will be times that you’ll experience some rubberband AI (catch-up) but in my time playing it wasn’t always prevalent. I had a few races that were close, there is no doubt about that, but with time, and practice, there was nothing that couldn’t be overcome, even if I dialed down the odd objective to two stars.

Control in a game that involves racing virtual two wheeled machines is somewhat important. When I first started playing it felt like the control was loose; however, with time I adjusted and found it really wasn’t too bad. You’ll have to brake when going into some of the sharper corners, and weaving in and out of traffic is manageable, except for when that one car or truck shows up out of the blue. When racing in the dirt bike class you’ll have to get use to using the ‘B’ button to kick out your back wheel and ‘drift’ around the corners. Speaking of the dirt bikes, you can also pull off some cool moves while you race, including flips, sidekicks, and a slew of other aerial moves. It adds to your style points which you will find have a higher ‘goal’ amount in the dirt bike racing then when street racing.

Should you want to take a break from the career you can go into quick race anytime you want. It’s a nice way to practice and get used to new riders and motorcycles. You can choose from single race, championship, time attack and hot lap. Many of these are found within the career mode, so again, great practice. There is also some split screen racing, which is great for those days you may be sitting at home with a friend gaming and you just want to do something different. Moto Racer 4 also allows you to head online. You can join random races or set up your own, either private, friends only, or open to the public. There are street races and dirt races with single race, king of the road, last man riding and golden helmet modes. Surprisingly, and somewhat sad, is that even on launch day I could not find any races to participate in online. So, I can’t say too much here, which is disappointing as I would have liked to test it out. There is a nice array of multiplayer options that should keep diehard fans happy though.

Visually, the best way I can describe the look of Moto Racer 4 is that it is like a late Xbox 360 game or very early Xbox One game. The dev-team used the Unreal 4 Engine, and it doesn’t look particularly bad, it’s just that 3 years into the life-cycle of the Xbox One I expect more, especially using this graphics engine as it’s a very capable one that has produced good looking games in the past. The track design is commendable though, as there are varied environments to race in. The various street locations, and the dirt track ones, are very different from one another. For example, during a street race you may find yourself racing over a Golden Gate like bridge and then the next race you’ll find yourself on the wide open straights of a desert road. Or if racing off-road, you could find yourself racing in an airplane graveyard then next race find yourself racing in an open cave-like setting. The only down fall here is that the overall number of tracks is limited and the actual visuals look dated as they don’t have the ‘oomph’ you’d hope for. On a more positive note, technically the game ran fairly well and quite smooth, with very little hiccups invading my gameplay experience.

Finally, as for the sound, I did get somewhat annoyed of the constant sound of the motorcycles after a while, as they had a knack at sounding virtually all the same. As for the sound effects beyond the bikes, you’ll notice some environmental sounds, but nothing that really immerses you like you’d hope. The game’s soundtrack is…. interesting. It is a mix of techno and hard-rock, and I didn’t mind it too much, but the more you play the game, the more you’ll find the tracks starting to repeat, which can become quite bothersome in itself. I guess the best way to describe the audio is that it is functional and can get the job done.

So, what is our verdict here at XBA. Well, Moto Racer 4 is a very arcadish two-wheeled racer. It has the benefit of having two different classes of motorcycles to race, and there is a career mode that allows for tailoring of the game’s event objectives to match one’s skill, something I haven’t seen too much in racing games. Unfortunately, the online lobbies were empty, the visuals are somewhat dated, track selection is limited, and the sound is nothing to write home about. For $40 I feel that some may feel the price of entry is too high. If this game was offered at $25, it might be worth some serious consideration, if not just for something different to play, but at its’s current price it’s hard to fully recommend it as nothing particularly stands out as wowing you. That being said, diehard racing fans, especially those of the two-wheeled nature, could find something to like here.

Overall Score: 6.1 / 10 Dead Rising 4

Dead Rising first released on the Xbox 360 in 2006, yes that is 10 years ago, and the most recent game, Dead Rising 4, has just been released on the Xbox One. Both these games feature Frank West, the dark humored photo journalist that managed to save the day in the original game. Fast forward to Dead Rising 4, and Frank is headed back to Willamette, where the first game took place. Developed by Capcom Vancouver, this latest entry into the franchise has the staple sarcastic humor that has made the series what it is, oh, and of course there is lots of zombies to kill and many ways to do it while dressed in zany costumes should you wish. And, just so you know, you'll find a few changes and additions to the gameplay as well.

The game starts off with Frank, who you control, immediately fighting zombies in a mall. Think of it as a tutorial so to speak. As you make your way toward the level’s boss you wakes up in your house, and you are now in Dead Rising 4’s universe. Frank is a college instructor for investigative journalism and he is awaiting the arrival of one of his students, Vick. She picks him up under the guise of playing mini-golf, but this is a sham. She takes him back to Willamette, the last place he wants to be. She tells him a that a source of hers told her of an old missile silo/base where “body bags go in and body bags go out”. She wants to investigate with Frank’s help, but of course he wants no part of this given his last experience in Willamette, but Vick is persuasive.

Once the two are inside they realize they are onto something big as zombies are being experimented on for some unknown reason. As they make their way through the base Vick decides to do something that attracts attention and both her and Frank need to escape. They are separated and once Frank makes it out he sees Vick leave without him. Frank is blamed to attacking a military staff at the installation which forces him to go into hiding. Fast forward to a few months later and Frank is once again teaching college, but in a small unnamed town under the name of Hank Smith. The Director of Zombie Defence & Control, Brad Smith, has tracked him down and recruits him to investigate what has happened in Willamette since Frank and Vick were at the missile silo/base as was there as a new zombie outbreak occurred on Black Friday. To add further drama to the story, Vick is knee deep into her investigation of events leading up to it.

Overall, you’ll find yourself invested in the story as things play out. There is much more narrative then what I have laid out above, but I have always been an advocate of not ruining a good thing. What I can say though is that you’ll find the current story can link to the first Dead Rising and I think this is great. Given that it pays homage to the first game that started the whole series is pretty cool and it does it in such a way that it makes sense and doesn’t feel corny or forced.

The story plays out over 7 cases (think of them as chapters). At the end of each case a summary of what you have found throughout your game experience is displayed and you are given a ranking based on your progress. It should be noted that at various points in the narrative you will be tasked with investigating certain areas with your camera, which has a night vision and spectrum vision mode (both new to the franchise). Both these modes will become necessary to solve not only the investigations, but some basic puzzles as well. For the story centric investigations, as you find clues, and snap pictures, the narrative continues and once you find everything you can move on.

Although the tale plays out in a very linear fashion, the game is a sandbox affair that allows for a lot of exploration. One of the biggest changes, and one that may bring about a lot of debate, is the removal of the 72-hour timer. Personally, I think this was a smart move, but I am sure there are Dead Rising fans who won’t agree. For me I see it as truly allowing you to have the time to explore your environments, and trust me, whether it be during your first play through, or after you completed the main story, you’ll be doing a lot of exploration, which is not a bad thing. There are so many things to find such as panic rooms, newspapers, cell phones, blueprints, etc. that help not only tell the story, but add to the gameplay.

Of course, you’ll need weapons, vehicles and some form of first aid to assist your efforts in your fight against the undead, and Dead Rising 4 has you covered. Your weapons come in three flavours: ranged, brawl (melee), and those you throw. These range from pistols, machine guns, baseball bats, tire irons, car mufflers, grenades, acid, gasoline, and SO MUCH MORE. Even Christmas items like giant candy canes, Christmas wreaths, choir bells, giant presents, and many, many more can be used. It’s pretty crazy what you might find to dispose of a zombie or two. Switching between your weapons is easy too, as each ‘category’ is assigned to the d-pad and with a simple press in one direction you can equip that category of weapon. As for first aid, should you find your health low, you only need to press down on the d-pad to replenish it. Simple…effective….and easy to do during the mayhem of killing a horde of zombies.

One of the new additions to Dead Rising 4 is the ability to wear an Exo-Suit. This new combat ready exo-skeleton adds some neat mechanics to the game. You’ll find the ‘suits’ in various areas of Willamette as well as in some parts of the story that require you to use it. Along with heightened speed, and strength, you can also use Exo-Suit only weapons that you find (e.g. railgun, battle axe, jackhammer, tractor shovel) or you can power it up with added parts. It’s fun to put on the Exo-Suit and just run through the zombies, and other enemies, that you will come across.

Another new addition to the gameplay is the introduction to two new types of zombies. There are ‘fresh’ zombies and ‘evolved’ zombies. The ‘fresh’ zombies are exactly what it says, those who were recently killed and just turned into a zombie. They are faster and stronger than regular zombies and they have red glowing eyes. The ‘evolved’ zombies are very quick and have a bit of combat strategy. They jump, hang off walls, and are much stronger than any zombie out there. They have green glowing eyes as well as a green aura around them. These two new types of zombies are a nice change from the regular slow and meandering ones, and they add a bit more challenge and spice when fighting them.

Blueprints are really one of the mainstays of Dead Rising 4 as these allow you to combine so many different things in the game making for some crazy weapons, and vehicles too. There are a huge number of blueprints (55 in total) to find throughout all the areas you’ll be exploring. You can randomly come across them or buy a map from a vendor that will show you all their locations. To say there are some interesting creations is an understatement. From the Ice Sword (freezes zombies and then breaks them into bits), Holiday Junk (Christmas wreath that when you hit your enemy it zaps it and those around it) and the Blambow (crossbow that launches fireworks that explode when hit their target) to the likes of Raining Nails (a gun that fires explosive nails in a bunch at a single time), the Do-It-Yourself-Grenade (a martini mixer filled with chemicals) or Dynameat (a hunk of meat with dynamite in it which the meat attracts zombies and the dynamite explodes). Of course, vehicles are just as crazy, such as Sling Rot (combination of tow truck and a hearse) or the Warmonger (combination of a Military DRV and ATV). Blueprints add that ‘over-the-top’ way to dispose, and travel, through the zombies you come across.

Dead Rising 4 has a skill tree system that allows you to use Prestige Points (think EXP) to make you a
stronger character. Earn a specific number of Prestige Points and you will level up earning a skill point which you can spend on a ‘box’ in one of four areas: Brawling, Fortitude, Shooting and Survival. These buffs will help you in the long run, from adding extra slots in specific inventories, adding extra health, improving health or stamina regeneration, making your weapons more accurate, affecting how much health is cured when using first aid/food, slow down your stamina use, and many other areas. Overall there are well over 100 ‘boxes’ over the four attributes to spend your skill points on as you level up.

As you explore the world of Willamette you will find ‘Events’ that are basic, and optional, side missions. Such things as helping a survivor, destroying enemy equipment, or finding an Exo-Suit, will pop up and add to the gameplay. Some of the NPCs will also give you things to do, such as investigating a rumor of some sort and putting the rumor to rest. All of these things give you extra Prestige Points and Scrap (in-game currency). It’s worth noting that should you complete the events where you assist and save a survivor, they go back to the emergency shelter in that area. Each area has an emergency shelter which is the ‘safe house’. There you can buy clothes, weapons, food, maps (for locations of items, blueprints, etc.) and vehicles. Each time you save a survivor and they return to the emergency shelter, that shelter levels up and you can buy better items.

Should you pretty much ‘plow’ through the game’s main story, and only do a little exploring, you should be able to get through the game in anywhere between 10-15 hours. That being said, and as referenced above, there is a lot to search for in the game and a lot of items to find that will not only enhance your experience (Ummmm hello, dress up as Akuma from Street Fighter), but also add to the challenges that you can complete in-game. As Frank is a photographer, you’ll find that you are able to take pictures of everything, and there are photo trials (challenges) for you to do. There are also combat trials and exploration trials to complete as well. These trials are not necessary, but add to the gameplay, especially for those completionists out there. I found that I would search for hours on end just to see what was in each area of Willamette. Fans will enjoy what they can come across when searching the various buildings, stores, and areas.

Dead Rising 4 adds a cooperative mode, but it is not the traditional co-op campaign mode. This time around you and up to three others (totaling 4) can team up and play in a series of episodes that are their own mini-story. When we had the chance to play with Capcom Vancouver online and the best way it was described was as a combination of the original Dead Rising and Left for Dead. This is because you are given a time limit to complete your task(s) and once you survive long enough you must make it to the safehouse within a certain time limit. The characters that you choose to play as are based on 4 NPCs from the story mode, and you’ll learn a little more about them as you play. Each of the 4 episodes is different and they change daily, so the daily game experience varies. You must make it through all episodes to be successful and Capcom Vancouver says this should, on average, take around 4 hours.

During our multiplayer game time, you could sense the similarities to Left for Dead, as you are scored for your performance (e.g. zombies killed, first blood, highest hit streak, etc.). It is also a free-for-all when it comes for special weapons and health items. Fresh zombies, with a bag on their back, make an appearance during your play and should you take them down and search the bag you’ll discover that there are special weapons and items inside. It’s a first come, first serve approach too, as whoever picks it up gets it. Multiplayer mode has its own skills, its own trials, and its own blueprints (Gold Blueprints). The time we spent in multiplayer was relatively fun, and there are multiplayer specific achievements, but my fear is that it may become repetitive after extended play (meaning weeks not days) and it may not hold the attention of all those who play it. That being said, it’s there and it is fun when you first play it.

The voice acting is pretty good. Franks one-liners and sarcastic comebacks will result in a chuckle now and then. The overall voice acting is fairly solid for all the characters, and there is a lot of dialog as the story progresses. I played most of the game using a set of high quality surround sound headphones and I was impressed. From hearing the hundreds upon hundreds of zombies surrounding me moaning and groaning, the music in various vehicles I drove, to gunfire from other enemies in the distance, it was surly an audio delight. Even the little details of a hidden cellular phone buzzing that you could track down from the sound was a nice touch. Fans should enjoy the details here, well most of them except for the annoying sound of semi-automatic gunfire from one sect of enemies. You may even want to take the time watch the credits for all the music in game, as there are a lot and it adds to the holiday cheer.

Although there is a lot of good in this game (IMHO), there are a few quirks to be found. First off, the visuals are solid, and the number of zombies on screen at once without any slowdown is impressive. There is a lot of Willamette to explore too. It amazed me with how much of the area and buildings that you can actually go int and explore. The size of Willamette Memorial Metroplex (the new mall) is impressive and there are a lot of places to go. Unfortunately, with something this big, you’ll find a few glitches now and then, like limbs coming through walls or a zombie who you cut in half results in their bottom half getting up and running around wildly. These types things happened occasionally and were worth noting. Another issue is that when items are close together it can be frustrating to pick up the one specific item you may want to use. I found that sometimes I spent more time positioning myself to pick up a weapon/item then I did looking for it. Finally, it’s also worth noting that if you spend a lot of time in one specific area, things just ‘reset’. You’ll find that the horde of zombies and all the enemies resets, the events reset, and vehicles reset (the latter is not as noticeable). I would have preferred that if I was in one area for an extended period exploring that things were relatively the same as I left them, not repopulate them with the same horde of zombies, enemies, or events.

Dead Rising 4 is a continued testament to what makes the series fun, that being how it doesn’t take itself so seriously like many other zombie games out there. Capcom Vancouver has done a great job with this latest game in the Dead Rising series, and although some may argue that the omission of the 72-hour timer is a mistake, we think it was a great idea as it should make the game that more enticing to so many gamers. In the end this holiday zombie killing experience is recommended for those Xbox One owners out there, as it’s humor, it’s content, and all there is to do in-game is quite enjoyable, even despite a few technical glitches.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

There is no doubt that the Call of Duty series has taken its fair share of criticisms in the past and present. Most recently you can see it from the number of ‘dislikes’ recorded on YouTube for the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s announcement trailer and the some of the fan base criticizing Activision and Infinity Ward for making COD: Modern Warfare Remastered a bundle only option with the newest game. It’s amazing to see such a vocal crowd say so much about a game they haven’t played. Well we here at XBA have had a chance to play the game and are here to tell you as much as we can about it.

First off I need to get the ‘elephant in the room” out of the room. This game is not Battlefield. There, I said it. I know so many people are planning to compare this game to EA’s annual franchise, and in reality you shouldn’t as they are two different games. I know many will not agree with me, and that’s fine, but the truth is that COD is its own beast, and EA’s game is its own beast as well, and they are two very separate games, so stop trying to compare them. They offer up their own experiences, story, and gameplay features. Ok, I think I ranted enough about this.

This review will be covering the gameplay experience with Infinite Warfare, given that Modern Warfare is the same game of 2007, but remastered in both visuals and sound. We will be focusing on the single player aspect, the multiplayer experience, and of course the cooperative gameplay of the new Zombies mode of Infinite Warfare.

Single Player (Story) Campaign

After playing through the Infinite Warfare’s campaign story I must say that I am quite satisfied with the single player experience. COD games have been known to come up short in this area in the past. I have played through every campaign in a COD game since COD 2 debuted on the Xbox 360, except for Black Ops III. Last year’s game just didn’t grab my attention in the single player area. Much has been discussed by Infinity Ward about trying to make this year’s single player campaign one you want to play and pay attention to, and after playing it I believe I can say they did a good job here.

As far as the campaign’s story goes, and without giving up too much information, you are part USNA. Your enemy is the Settlement Defense Front (SDF who splintered off and started their own fleet/army. They are a war machine ruled by its military and they are viewed as the enemy to the rest of Earth. They are “revolutionists” given how they want nothing to do with Earth in any manner. You take on the role of Nick Reyes, starting off as a Lieutenant and who is unsuspectingly promoted to Commander and Acting Captain of the Spaceship Retribution. This happens after the Earth is attacked by the SDF when they did not expect it.

I’d go into further detail, but I won’t, as you need to experience narrative yourself. But what I can tell you is that the story that plays out, from the cutscenes or actual gameplay, is one you’ll want to pay attention to. You can tell that this is not your typical single player COD campaign, as there is a wide collection of characters to follow, and you’ll want to listen to the dialogue that occurs as it all has relevance during the game. As for Nick Reyes, you’ll see how he adapts and changes who he is throughout the story making decisions he never thought he’d make. You get invested in what goes on. In a nutshell, given the surprises that occur during the story you never know where the plot is going to take you.

One of the big complaints that fans already have about Infinite Warfare is that it was announced that it would take place in the in space. Well, let me say that even though this is the case, the game feels “grounded” and you feel like you are truly in a battle no matter where you are. There is no reliance on overly fancy or over-the-top futuristic weapons. The game plays like a COD game. You’ll find that any weapons of the future are based on the guns of the ‘past’. Energy and ballistic weapons must be reloaded and the guns feel solid. I was quite surprised with how they didn’t feel exceedingly sci-fi like.

Infinity Ward has tried to mix things up with this year’s story campaign and you’ll find yourself involved in battles on planets, battles on enemy ships, and you’ll even battle in space outside enemy ships as you try to board the enemy craft. In terms of the latter, think of these aspects like the space battle in Moonraker (James Bond film) but it’s not cheesy and there is some strategy as you use your grapple cable to go from cover to cover. You can also use the same cable to kill your enemies in a few different ways. There are also new battles where you are flying a fighter jet called a Jackal. The Jackal battles are intense, and once you learn how to pilot the fighter in space it becomes an entertaining part of the game as it’s a gameplay mechanic that is implemented well and adds a change of pace in the battles you partake in.

There are side missions in the game, called “Targets of Opportunity” but these missions are not ‘tacked-on’ as they have relevance to the story. They open early on in the game and the missions entail boarding enemy ships (ship assault) and killing “most wanted” SDF officers, destroying certain items on an enemy ship, and/or flying Jackal missions destroying enemy ships or outposts. When you explore what targets are available you can see what rewards are offered for completing the mission and you can decide accordingly on what to do. More “Targets of Opportunity” become available as you progress too.

There are also little touches that make the story mode even more unique. For example, as you progress you can watch ‘news’ snippets that are based on some key moments of the story, as well as the “Targets of Opportunity”, that you complete. Usually you can view them in the staff area where other staff will comment on the news that is being played on the ‘screen’. It’s very cheesy news video, but it’s a small, and nice little touch. These are optional and you don’t have to watch them if you don’t want to. You’ll also see that your ship gets slowly repaired after battle too, so it is never the same inside given the repairs that occur. Also, as you go on missions you can find areas on enemy ships or mission installations where you can access new weapons, new attachments, or improvements to other weapons and they become accessible in your armory (e.g. you can upgrade your hacking grenade to take over bigger shielded robots).

It took me 8 – 9 hours to complete the story mode, and that includes all the “Targets of Opportunities”. Oh, you may want to watch the credits too, just sayin’. There is a total of 31 missions, when all the individual story chapters and all the “Targets of Opportunities” are counted together. Some parts of story seem like one long mission, but they are broken up behind the scenes into several missions that just stream together. The reason you’re unaware of how many actual missions there are is that there are no loading screens as the story plays out seamlessly even with your breaks of gameplay. There are some LONG (caps added for emphasis) gameplay sections, especially in the last ‘chapter’ and you’ll feel like it goes on forever (in a good way though). Just when you think you’re done, you suddenly realize you’re not and you keep going as the story plays out further. And for those looking for some hardcore challenge, try playing the game on Specialist (more damage, no regenerating health, need to find and use replacement helmets and nanopacks to heal yourself) or YOLO (You Only Live Once) mode.

Although the story mode is a much-improved narrative, there are going to be pundits out there who will slam it no matter what it does. And sure, you’ll find that there are some staple COD gameplay elements such as choke points, the need to fight an insurmountable number of enemies at one time and the prerequisite to cross some invisible line/barrier at times before enemies will stop respawning. In terms of the latter, it’s not as bad as in past COD games that I have played, so there is a bit of silver lining there.

The visuals are in Infinite Warfare are fairly solid. What you’ll notice though is that there is a film like quality to the cutscenes and that the gameplay has that “Call of Duty” look which is clean, sharp, and quite bright. The environments are quite varied (including competitive multiplayer). Planets look different from each other (e.g. ice versus rocky with pockets of gas) and ship interiors vary depending on where you are (e.g. weapons area, captains deck or the engine room). Flying the Jackals is also impressive visually, including battling large enemy battleships and then flying through the debris of the ship you destroyed taking out the SDF’s Jackal like fighters. And we cannot forget the weapons either. They are very detailed and if you look closely at some of them you can see how they are based on weapons that are current today. This was something that Infinity Ward worked with military advisors on as they wanted to stay within the realm of how weapons may develop in the future.

Nary a hiccup was found when playing, as the framerate seemed steady most of the time and I didn’t notice any technical issues. I was impressed with the lighting effects, especially the level where you are on a mining asteroid and you need to dart in the shade from building to building before the sun starts to shine down and literally burn you alive. Although there is nothing particularly wrong with the games visuals, there are critics, and I can see why as the look of all COD games has kept pretty much the same, just improvements in level design, special effects, and general wizardry for getting things looking good.

The audio is a very strong point of the game too. From the voice acting, the special effect sounds (in surround sound of course) and the weapons. The fact that the guns are supposed to be in the future, but they still sound, what I can best describe as, plausible. From ballistic based weapons to energy based weapons, they sound somewhat realistic, if I can say that for weapons that don’t even exist. When you change the mag of your gun and then pull the trigger you’ll understand what I am saying. Guns sound different from one another too, so an LMG is distinctly different from an SMG or Assault rifle and the ballistic weapons sound different from the energy based ones. In terms of the voice acting, although it’s not Oscar material, it’s quite decent, and you can hear that the voice actors played their roles well. One of the highlights is a new robot soldier, Ethan, who is part of your assault team. His voice work is terrific (for a robot) and there are some very well timed comical moments that make his role in the game so interesting. He has his own personality, as evidenced by his lines, and he added to many of the missions he played a part in.

In general, the rest of sound does its job well, from walking on ice, rock or dirt, the sounds of your own troops, or enemy troops, as they scream and yell in battle to those times when you find you and your assault team crawling through the maintenance ducts of a ship, you’ll hear it all. You’ll also notice the little details such as the sounds of putting on your helmet when going out in space, the sound of weapons in the vacuum of space, the sound of hyperspace drives igniting as you travel from planet to planet, and the sound of your ship as you walk through it with all the chatter, the sound of repairs, and the Zero G world outside putting pressure on it your ship’s hull.

Multiplayer (Adversarial)

If you have played any COD games over the past few years, then multiplayer should be rather self-explanatory. There are your usual modes in Infinite Warfare such as kill confirmed, free-for-all and team deathmatch (TDM) as well as some core eSports modes such as hardpoint, CTF and uplink. It’s all standard for COD fans nowadays and Infinite Warfare continues the heritage of such. You can even create custom games and be a ‘codcaster’ should you be streaming on Twitch or YouTube.

There are a few new additions to multiplayer in Infinite Warfare. The first, and most notable, is the fact that you equip your soldier with what is known as a Rig. Each Rig has a specific set of abilities that are tailored for a specific type of play style. Each of the Rigs comes with different payload options for you to think about (1 weapon & 2 abilities). Three Rigs are available when you first start your online experience (Warfighter, Merc, Synaptic). The other three open as you level up (FTL - level 15, Stryker -level 31 and Phantom - level 36).

The Warfighter is considered your typical ‘soldier’ in a COD game; the Merc plays a defensive role as they provide cover fire and defensive items for teammates; finally, the Synaptic is a robotic soldier which is adept at speedy close quarters combat. The three Rig classes that open as you level up also have their specialties. The FTL Rig uses experimental tech and is adept at guerilla warfare; Stryker is a support role for all other team players on the map; and Phantom is a Sniper/Marksman role. You’ll find that as you level up, open new perks, and items for your guns, that the Rig you choose will be one that suits your gameplay style.

Another new addition to the multiplayer experience is Mission Teams. There are four different teams that have you adapting to different objectives depending on what team you pick. Only one team is open from the start (JTF Wolverine) and they are just concerned with killing the enemy. The other teams become available at level 15 (Orion – strategy is their key to their gameplay and missions), level 30 (Sabre Team Seven – Equipment plays a key role in their missions) and at level 45 (Wraith – Specializes in assassination and covert ops). The Mission Teams, and their objectives, add a bit of variety in what you are doing as there are specific goals, and as you rank up in your team you are rewarded with items for customization and prototype weapons.

The other, and final, noteworthy addition is crafting of weapons. You can start crafting weapons in the “prototype lab”, which is found at the Quartermaster, and if you are at the level the weapon you want, and you have the salvage parts, you can ‘make’ that weapon. Salvage parts can be found in either the “regular” or “rare” supply boxes, cards from the supply boxes that are duplicates break down into salvage, and levelling up mission teams can reward you too. Once you have enough salvage you can then start your crafting experience. If you are lucky you can also find a “rare” card in a chest that will open one of the higher prototype guns and you won’t have to “chain” your way through crafting to get to that particular gun.

When talking about the crafting and prototype system, I spoke to Infinity Ward about the possibility of it giving players unfair advantages. It was noted that the rarities and differences in the guns aim at playstyles and traits, not making one gun overpowered (OP’d) that someone will run amok with and make the game experience miserable. You should, in theory, be able to find a gun that is lower in ‘rarity’ (e.g. rare or legendary) and match up with someone using a gun that is higher (e.g. epic).

Two new modes have been added this year as well, defender and frontline. In defender you rush to the middle of the map and try to gain control of a drone. You basically play keep away and can pass it to your teammates to help you do so. A bit of strategy is involved as you pick your Combat Rigs to match how you play (e.g. keep the drone or protect the drone carrier). After holding the drone for a minute the drone resets and it’s a mad dash to get the drone once again. I found that this is pretty enjoyable new mode and I had a lot of fun playing it. Frontline is more of a TDM based mode. Each team’s spawns are clearly laid out and you want to kill your enemy outside the spawn points, as that is where the points count. It’s a nice change up from regular TDM as being killed when I spawn has always been a complaint of mine.

You’ll find some variety in the maps, environment wise, as they take place on different planets with very different areas highlighted, and you’ll even get to fight in a space station. The maps are quite detailed as well. I hear time in and time out that COD devs use an old graphics engine, well, by the looks of the maps the graphic engine is highly refined and does a great job of looking good. From the cold steel of the innerwalls of a space station, the pod-like structures in Frontier, to the reimagined Terminal, fans should find a lot to enjoy when looking at the visuals in this game. In terms of their gameplay design, many will recognize how they are designed, with choke points, sniping alleys, and areas meant for close quarter weapons versus medium sized areas for assault rifles.

In the end COD multiplayer is COD multiplayer, it’s fast, twitchy and has a gameplay style and tactics that work. People who play it come back because they enjoy it, so if you are not a fan of previous multiplayer, that is ok, you don’t have to like this, but there are people who do, and I can see why. If anything, Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer gives new maps, new weapons, and some new features that help make it a somewhat better experience, but there is also a lot of familiarity with it, which has brought back many COD fans in the first place.

Cooperative Play (Zombies Mode)

Zombies mode has become a staple with any COD game since it debuted a few years ago. It has garnered quite the following and this year’s version looks to change things up. Zombies in Spaceland takes place in the 1980s, and in a theme park nonetheless. You are part of a group of four kids (prom queen, jock, nerd/geek and rapper) who have been asked to come to a mysterious theater where you expect to audition for a role in a movie; however, you are magically whisked off to another world, which turns out to be the theme park where this Zombies mode takes place. Of course you have to fight for your life as you battle wave after wave of the undead.

One thing is very clear, and that is there is a warped sense of humour in Zombies in Spaceland. From having to battle exploding Killer Clowns, using interesting weapons to kill zombies (exploding 80’s ‘ghetto-blasters’) to following the directions of the theme park’s DJ, who is played by David Hasselhoff. For the motivated zombie killer, you can even use the rides and ‘attractions’ as weapons. For example, there is a dance floor found in the theme park that, when there is power and activated, the zombies will go onto the flashing dance floor and dance, and once there is enough of them, the disco ball will start firing lasers and kill them all. You can use a variety of the rides and attractions to do this kind of stuff and it’s pretty neat to watch it unfold.

You’ll find the level design choices just as interesting, from battling zombies in the park’s souvenir store to being able to ride a roller coaster and shoot carnival targets, and zombies, while doing so. Even death is handled differently, as you find yourself in the ‘Afterlife Arcade’ and you can try to earn the chance to come back to life by playing theme park arcade games such as throwing basketballs through hoops, playing skee-ball or putting a coin in an arcade machine to play some very early Activision published games (think Pitfall people).

As long as you stay alive as a team you can discover what a large theme park you are battling zombies in. You haven’t felt panic and urgency in a game until you run out of ammo in this mode and you run for your life with a horde of zombies chasing you. Hearing the footsteps and growls get closer as you frantically search for ammo, or a new weapon you can afford, will keep you on the edge of your seat. In all Zombies in Spaceland is truly a great take on the Zombies mode and something fans, and non-fans alike, should enjoy.

So, we come to the end of this long review. With Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare developer Infinity Ward has managed to do a lot with this year’s COD entry. It has a story mode that makes you want to play the single player campaign as it keeps you engrossed, and as there are no loading screens the story keeps on playing out in front keeping you involved in the narrative all game. In regards to the multiplayer, although there is no ‘ground breaking’ feature, what Infinity Ward has added, from the Rigs, the Mission Teams to the crafting, makes for enough new additions that add to the familiarity of what already exists making this area one that fans will enjoy. And finally, the cooperative Zombies mode is a fresh take on what has become an exciting mode and the fact that it’s such a different setting from past zombie modes before make it refreshing and enjoyable. As a whole Infinite Warfare is not perfect game, but that doesn't make it a bad game as all three gameplay elements (story, multiplayer, cooperative) combine to make a solid game that fans, and even non-fans, can enjoy and one that shouldn’t be overlooked this year.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Skylanders Imaginators

The Skylanders franchise was a gamble for publisher Activision in 2011, as making a game that required you to purchase real ‘toy figurines’ to play seemed risky. Well, the game was pretty popular and you couldn’t find many of the game’s figurines come Christmas of that year. The franchise has seen a yearly release since that time with each new entry doing something different. From giant Skylanders to Skylanders you had to trap to mixing and matching Skylander parts to Skylanders in vehicles, it’s been an interesting journey. One thing has been missing over the years though, and that has been the ability to create your own Skylander. Well, the number 6 seems to be the lucky number for fans, as Skylanders Imaginators, the 6th game in the franchise, now allows you to do just that.

I have to preface this review and let you know that my 12-year-daughter does most of the Skylanders playing during the review process. I get my hands dirty too, be it through cooperative play with her, or when looking for something specific to address. Skylanders is a family friendly title that all ages can play, but come-on, we know that the kids are the ones it’s targeted so I tend to really focus on that aspect; however, one cannot deny that parents can get hooked with too, so we can’t forget about them either.

Story wise, Kaos is back once again, and that dastardly nemesis of the Skylanders troop still has plans to rule the world of Skylands (stubborn isn’t he?). He has found the power of mind magic and he is creating an army of his own Skylanders called Doomlanders. It is up to you, with your self-created Skylanders called Imaginators, and other existing Skylanders, to defeat Kaos and his Doomlanders. I could get deeper into the story, but that would take the fun away, so this ‘tidbit’ of information will have to suffice.

Skylanders Imaginators has to be one of the biggest Skylanders games, content wise, that I have ever experienced. The main feature to this year’s game is the ability to create your own Skylanders. You save your ‘creation’ to an elemental crystal. It’s a simple process but yet it is much deeper than one might expect. You start off choosing your element and battle class. The battle class is your fighting style (e.g. ninja, knight, bowslinger, smasher, bazooka and more). With 10 different elements and 10 different fighting styles there are 100 starting points to choose from. You get to tailor what your Skylander looks like, what attributes they have, and what armor they may wear. From hair to eyes to ears to even tails and size, you’ll then head onto your armor and where you put it (e.g. shoulder guards, backpack, leg and chest armor, etc.).

The amount of visual control you have over your creation is pretty much unlimited. You can use pre-set options, basic customization options, or head on into the advanced options to color every little detail you are allowed to in order to make it special looking. Toys for Bob didn’t want to take any customization away from the “younger audience” either, so the different levels of customization make it easy, or as deep, for whatever one wants to do, no matter how old you are.

As any Skylander fan knows, each Skylander has their own unique personality, and in Imaginators you can create your own personality to your liking, including some great sayings from a fairly extensive library of such. You take various parts of a saying and chain them up together to create a ‘tag-line’ of your own making. Of course you can also name your character and create a voice from the menu of options. You can also assign your character a specific theme song (e.g. funk) as well as assign their weapon its own sound too (e.g. cartoony, magical, and even an 8-bit video game like sound).

Skylanders Imaginators introduces new Sensei Characters (separate figurines) – considered masters – and they each represent one of the 10 battle classes. For example, there is Sensei Ember, who represents the Sentinel battle class (double edged sword); she was one of my daughter’s favourites. By bringing any Sensei onto the portal fans get a training bonus by upping one’s custom character level cap, and they also provide Imaginators of the same battle class with a new technique for their customization options to add or try out. When using a Sensei character, a new on-screen meter shows up that represents the Sensei’s Ski-Chi super move, which only they have. This super-move fills as you dispatch enemies and you must figure out when the best times to use it are. Sensei characters are also able to open up Sensei Shrines throughout the game’s levels, as well as Sensei Realms. There are challenges to be found in each one you open and the Sensei characters are the only ones who can enter and take these trials on.

As I mentioned above, I consider this one of the biggest games in the franchise to date, content wise. Along with custom Skylanders, and the Sensei characters, there is the game itself, and there is A LOT (caps added for emphasis) to do. Sure, you could rush from A to B and complete the story mode without exploring, but what fun is that? There are a TON of collectibles to be found, from Imaginite Chests (contain custom pieces to create more, or modify, custom skylanders), Troll Radios (you get your catch phrases here) which have mini-games, Soul Gems, and even more secret areas with more secret items and more hidden treasures. But wait, there is even more.

There is a new board game called Creation Clash, which is based on the Skystone game of past Skylander releases. Strategy and smarts are required to win but Imaginators eases you into it. Arena Battles are back too, as you once again go against waves of enemies in the traditional three round matches. It’s a great way to test your custom created Skylander’s strengths and weaknesses and a nice way just to kill some time (pun intended). You will also find Battle Gongs, which are Sensei dependent. Here they get their own challenge of enemies that come in waves, but once you beat the challenge you will find that you are rewarded handsomely. You can also take selfies throughout your adventure, and you will find that there are specific spots that the game challenges you to do so. Finally, one of the biggest returning features is Skylanders Raceway, reminiscent of Skylanders Superchargers. You’ll find yourself racing on land, sea, or air tracks, and you can race couch co-op with a friend or head online to race up to 4 players. Are you getting the point of “BIG & LOTS OF CONTENT”? There are hours upon hours upon hours of fun here.

Presentation wise Skylanders Imaginators is a winner, plain and simple. The visuals are simply impressive. From the level designs to the characters in motion, it’s all gorgeous. There are effects galore too, from water, lighting, lasers, explosions and vehicles, to name a few, for you to see, all rendered in colourful detail. The draw distance is impressive too, giving you a sense of actually being in the world of Skylands, a land that stretches way into the background. Technically speaking, me and my daughter did not run into any noticeable issues, and the camera, while not always perfect, was not a major issue during gameplay. And of course we cannot forget the music and voice acting.

The cutscenes, which seem to use the in-game graphics engine, are great to look at, and even better to listen to. The voice acting is wide ranged and plentiful and there is lots of humor to be found throughout. Original characters continue to be voiced by their original voice actors, or at least is sounds like it, and it makes things feel just right, continuity wise. When you hear Skylanders mocking the fact that long time villain Kaos is back again, given he has been their foe throughout the franchise’s existence, it’s actually pretty funny, and it’s this voice acting that makes it great to listen to all the characters speak. The music adds to whatever you’re doing at the time, be it exploring the Mysterious Ancient Place (M.A.P. (Get it?)), trekking through the countless long levels, fighting enemies during a boss battle, racing on any given track at Skylanders Raceway, or just hanging out at Skylands Academy. The music has an uncanny knack at matching what you are doing to a tee.

As per usual, all the previous Skylanders toys are compatible with Imaginators. This makes for hundreds of characters for you to play in game. You can complete Skylanders Imaginators with the starter pack, as you don’t have to buy any of the others should you not want to, but there are areas in the game that require the new Sensei characters or different Elements, but it’s not like you need ALL of toys coming out. That is the beauty of Skylanders, you don’t have to buy everything to play, and you can buy things as you go if you want to.

To add some further fun, fans can download the Skylander Creator app on iOS and Android mobile devices to create Skylanders anywhere they may be and eventually transfer their creations to the game. I had the chance to download the app on my Samsung Galaxy tablet and I have to say I was impressed. Pretty much all the same options that are in the in-game creator menu are available for the app. The app also allows you to open up more chests to get more items to create your Skylander. You can also head online to the Skylanders Imaginators store from the app and have your character created into a card, printed on a t-shirt, and even made into a 3D printed model. At the time of writing this review the 3D printed model was the only thing not active yet in terms of availability, but once it is it will be limited in numbers. I was lucky enough to get a Skylander I created, named Sir Boomalot (yes, I made that up), sent to me as a 3D printed figure. It’s fairly detailed, has individual colors throughout, and it works on the game portal. Regardless if you buy anything or not, the app’s ability to allow you to create on your own mobile device, and transfer it into the game, is not only handy, but impressive too.

Skylanders Imaginators proves that the franchise continues to strive to provide a quality gaming experience full of fun for families with kids looking for alternatives to the AAA shooters, sports and driving games that continue to hit consoles out there. Being able to create your own Skylander is a great addition and the Creator App for mobile devices is pretty darn cool. This latest iteration of the game has the most content I can think of in a Skylanders game, and there are hours and hours of exploring, creating, chest opening, and discovery to be had. The only negative that I can think of is I can’t imagine where the series will go from here, but hey, we’ve been surprised before.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Destiny: Rise of Iron

Destiny, Bungie's current franchise, has been quite the ride since its release over two years ago. In 2014 it released to quite the fanfare only to be received with mixed results. Some loved the ability to play a FPS on consoles in an MMO-like setting while others found it to be devoid of any story and an empty experience. During the first year a couple of expansions were released that, again, found mixed results from gamers and critics. In 2015 Destiny got its biggest DLC, called ‘The Taken King’, and critics and fans mostly praised it as it made some major strides in gameplay and Destiny become more of the game people hoped it would be when it first launched. Well, it’s 2016 and the next major expansion for Destiny has been released. Rise of Iron has been playable for over a week on the Xbox One (sorry Xbox 360, you were left behind this time) and in a nutshell it’s a fairly solid piece of content that Destiny fans should enjoy.

Rise of Iron’s campaign focuses on Lord Saladin, the last Iron Lord on Earth. He is the keeper of the Iron Temple (the former home of the Iron Lords and new social space for Rise of Iron on Felwinter’s Peak) and overseer of Destiny’s monthly PvP event called Iron Banner. Before the guardians existed the Iron Lords protected Earth. Unfortunately, Lord Saladin is the last of that breed alive and the reasons for such are somewhat explained. It’s a story that has a lot of lore behind it, and although it does indeed enlighten fans a bit as to what happened, it could have been fleshed out so much more.

The single player campaign takes about 2 hours or so too complete, with a total of 5 missions for you to participate in. During the story you’ll find yourself back in one of Destiny’s first experienced environments, the Cosmodrome, in a new area called the Plaguelands. You’ll discover, and learn, about a self-replicating nanotechnology called SIVA and you’ll fight a new group of Fallen called Splicers, who are SIVA enhanced. They have new weapons and new strengths that make them a little more challenging this time around.

The missions are typical Destiny fare, as you venture through the SIVA laden and snow covered levels, and through a few familiar levels too, but the 2 hours you play just seems too short. Personally, I wish that the campaign was double the size, as it would have allowed the ‘lore’ of the Iron Lords to be truly expanded upon. Heck, many of the weapons and gear you earn in Iron Banner are named after some of the Iron Lords who once protected the Earth and it would have been awesome to know who each weapon or piece of gear is associated with and why. In some way it seems like a missed opportunity for a deeper story, like that which was developed for The Taken King. That being said, what story is there is complimented by great voice acting and awesome cutscenes to watch.

One has to remember that Destiny is not all about a story mode for you to just venture through, as it still is about online play with other people, and that is where Rise of Iron continues to provide content that should keep fans happy for a while. Along with the new story campaign comes two new strikes and a new raid. One of the strikes is an original strike (Devil’s Lair) remastered with a SIVA twist. The other strike, “The Wretched Eye”, is brand new and features some typical Destiny battles. You’ll have to coordinate your plan of attack in this one given the fact that you’re dealing with two enemies at the same time in the boss stage. All in all, the new strikes are a nice addition, even the remastered one, but as with anything you do over and over, the can feel repetitive at times.

There are also new quest lines (4 new exotic weapons), new bounties and a new strike list (SIVA Strike List - recommended light level of 350) for guardians to complete. It’s nothing new for veterans of the game; however, the reward of Rise of Iron gear and weapons is the hook. Of course you’ll be aiming for a higher light level this time too (max level is 400), so the addiction of finding that one piece of gear or that one weapon with the right “roll” and higher light level once again rears its head. The addiction to have something new and something that your friends may not have yet will push veterans, and even those new to the game, to play that one extra strike or finish that one more step of a quest line. Something I have really come to learn during my venture up the path for a higher light level in Rise of Iron is that your reputation level amongst all the vendors in Destiny (from Eris to Variks to even the Queen's Representative (Petra) from the Reef) will play heavily in your climb. You’ll need these vender’s rewards to continue leveling up your new weapons and gear, as you’ll need the boost from these via infusing to get your new gear higher....and it’s different from playing the SIVA Strike list over and over again.

New to Destiny, via the Rise of Iron DLC, is Archon’s Forge. The best way that I can explain this is that it is similar to the Court of Oryx in such that it is a series of challenges that you start with Siva Keys you’ll find throughout the Plaguelands. As of writing this I have experienced three different levels from easy (fused - green), medium (enhanced - blue) to hard (perfected - purple). If you are going to attempt the hard challenges make sure there is a large group of people hanging out as it makes them so much more manageable as you’ll be swamped by a large number of enemies. These battles can get quite intense and chaotic and are a nice way to pass time when you just want to kill a bunch of enemies. What you will also find though is not a lot of people stay in the Archon’s Forge, but when there are a lot there seems to be quite a number of people using their SIVA keys to do the challenges.

One of the main treats to Rise of Iron is the fact that there is a new raid called Wrath of the Machine. As with the other raids in Destiny it is a six-person affair that takes coordination and planning to beat. It consists of five stages that requires guardians to take on their own role within. All team members will find it best to learn all the mechanics and how their individual role will help to advance and eventually complete your teams effort. Having spent some time talking with the ‘crew’ that I run with, especially those that levelled up quicker than I did and managed to play the raid a few times from when it was released, the consensus is that it is a raid that provides some excitement and variety because each section seems more involved and it feels more rewarding this time around.

Finally, we can’t forget PvP. There is a new mode called Supremacy, which is enjoyable. Best way to describe it is that it is similar to Kill & Confirm in COD. Put down a guardian on the opposite team and they drop a “crest” that matches their class and grab it and you get points for your team. First team to reach the score limit wins. There are also some new maps which are fairly well designed and look good. The new levels are Last Exit (Venus), Skyline (Mars) and Floating Gardens (Venus) and these are playable on the Xbox One. Each one has the same environmental specific look that other maps have, and if there is one thing I can always say, Bungie sure makes there PvP maps look good. They are solid additions to the world of adversarial multiplayer in Destiny and are a welcome addition.

Destiny’s strength, that of the addiction to find the right light level gear and weapon, plays to many, it may also be a weakness to others. This genre lends itself to “the grind”. Looking for better weapons with better stats, looking for better gear (e.g. armor) with higher levels, and looking chests to open or for areas and ways to obtain special items to allow you to complete special quests are highlighted in Destiny. Many people do not have the patience, or the online friends, to consistently do this with, and unfortunately Rise of Iron does not fix this fact. Does it make it a bad addition, not necessarily. I run with a consistent group of players (up to about 10 of us online at one time). I always find that I can do strikes, complete quests or bounties, finish patrols, or do many other things that are Destiny related, including those tasks found in found in Rise of Iron, while socializing online. With that in mind many others are in the same boat so to speak and this should not be too much of an issue, if any, for those diehard Destiny players.

Overall Destiny: Rise of Iron is a fairly solid DLC package for the price. The addition of a short, but fairly cool storyline is appreciated, as you learn more about Lord Saladin. The endgame has lots to do too, with new areas to explore, new items to find, and new adventures to be experienced. We can’t overlook the new raid either, as it seems to be a hit amongst Destiny fans out there with some highly sought after rewards. All in all, I think that Destiny fans will enjoy, and appreciate, this newest DLC and will grind their way to the highest light level without much, if any complaints. And for those that have yet to experience Destiny as a whole, there is a ton to enjoy just not here, but in the whole collection. See you in the Plaguelands Young Wolf.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Forza Horizon 3

I like driving games, and the Forza series as a whole is a franchise that I enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I have played other games in the genre, and even those on other platforms, and I can admit that there have been are other racing games that are good to play, but overall, the Forza series has seemed to be the most entertaining for me. From the days of playing the original Forza Motorsport on the original Xbox I was hooked. In 2012 a new racing experience with the Forza name attached to it was released, called Forza Horizon for the Xbox 360. The idea of racing in a ‘festival’ filled with wild music, wild events, and an open world feeling, combined with the Forza Motorsport handling, seemed to be an entertaining mix. Developer Playground Games showed the world that the racing genre was not just about racing on closed circuit tracks. Well, the third iteration of the Horizon franchise is upon us, and if anything, it clearly shows that this series keeps getting bigger, better, and simply put, more addictive and fun.

The past Forza Horizon games had a slight semblance of a story, as you were a “rookie” racer trying to make it big in the Forza Horizon Festival. In Forza Horizon 3 though you are no longer the rookie, as you are now the master. This time around you’re in charge of running and growing the festival, which takes place in beautiful Australia. You’ll compete in exhibitions and championships, take part in PR stunts (e.g. speed traps, speed zones, etc.), and of course race in Showcase Events, all in the effort to grow the Horizon Festival to the biggest it’s ever been. You’ll have Kiera helping you out too, as she keeps you briefed on key points throughout your adventure. Your goal is not just to earn money, or get better cars though, but you also want to gain fans, and the more fans you gain the bigger your festival becomes.

This year welcomes a bit of driver customization. From choosing what your driver looks like (there are pre-created characters that are male and female) to what Kiera and Anna (your virtual assistant and on-board vehicle navigator) call you. There is a wide selection of real life names to choose from, as well as nicknames. They didn’t have my name, but they did have a name that my Fijian friend’s mom calls me, so I went with that. Regardless, there should be something there for everyone, and if there is not, I say “look harder dammit”.

Forza Horizon 3 is a HUGE game (caps put in for emphasis people) as there is so much to do. You’ll be racing for hours upon hours, and I mean that. There are so many events that open up as you progress that you’ll always find something new to do. From circuit races, point to point races, to the now famed bucket list challenges and showcase events, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Playground Games’ goal seems to be to keep you busy throughout your time playing. Along with the regular races and special events you’ll find separate street races, speed traps, speed zones, drift zones, and 150 bonus boards (XP and quick travel discounts) to break. We can’t forget the barn finds either, where you are alerted to hidden barns in a specific area and radius, and it’s up to you to find the barn and discover the treasure within. There are also new ‘danger signs’ where you are treated to a chance to pull off a high octane and high altitude jump. Successfully land it and gain even more fans. The other new feature I wanted to mention are the “beauty spots” that you can discover. These are picturesque spots all over the map of Australia. Find one and with the simple press of the X button you are treated to a quick fly over of the particular spot with a short explanation of what why it is a ‘beauty spot’. It’s not only a bit informative but it also shows off the visuals in Forza Horizon 3.

In Horizon 3 you’ll also be recruiting other gamers ‘drivatars’ for participation in the Horizon Festival, and this is based on those drivatars that you’ll find on your map. You can only have four drivatars on your team, so there will come a time that you have to fire one of those who are not performing well. It’s a neat feature but I think that it could have been fleshed out a bit more. That being said, to have this added ability is kind or cool too and something that has not been done before.

Another new feature that has been incorporated into the game is called Horizon Blueprint. The trick here is that you can take any of the events you go to, edit them to your liking, and share them with other Horizon 3 fans. You can set events to match your own tastes and preferences. With a simple click to the left on whatever event that you want to become the master of, you can change the race route itself, how many routes you may have to race, time of day, weather, car eligibility, and more; you can even name it too. Once you change an event it populates into your friend’s games. You can challenge the Playground Games events or those created by your friends, and all the XP and rewards of either go towards your in-game progression.

One of the coolest features in Forza Horizon 3 is the fact that you can play the game’s campaign cooperatively. You can drop-in and drop-out seamlessly, and when you or a friend drops out, the rewards and progress follows. The game keeps track of what you and your friends do in cooperative mode so there is no having to repeat what anyone did when playing with friends versus when playing solo. The game allows you to progress with friends as much, or as little, as you want, and you don’t lose any progress when going back to a single player experience.

The online experience doesn’t end with the cooperative aspect either, as there is a lot of adversarial mayhem to be had. Of course you’ll find straight up racing, from individuals racing for their own glory to team racing where you try to get your team to accumulate the most points (finish position) in a series of races. There are also the crazy events that you can participate in too, found in the Forza Playground. Specially made games like ‘King’, where individuals are in a walled off arena and some of the drivers are identified as ‘the king’, players need to smash into them to take it away and then try to keep it for as long as they can. There is ‘Flag Rush’, where you must find the coloured flag and then get to the matching score point/area. Finally, you may play ‘Infected’, where one driver is infected and the rest of the drivers try to stay uninfected, last one standing, so to speak, wins. We had a chance to head online with the dev-team playing all of what I just mentioned, and it was quite fun. We played under network conditions that were not heavy given it was during the review period, so if things don’t hold up during the launch week, we’ll address it as needed. Bottom line though, when running well, online adversarial play is fun, from straight up racing to the crazy custom games added by the Playground Games team.

Yes, there is lots of racing to do, but Playground Games didn’t stop there, as the game does have the franchise word “Forza” in its’ title. There are a lot of options for tuning your car. Head into your garage and you’ll discover you can tune your car’s setup to your liking. Yep, just like in Forza Motorsport, you can tinker away with so many facets of your car that you can get every horse power to the wheels and improve your acceleration, braking, and cornering. That being said, for those like me, who just want to race or don’t have the true gear-head mentality, there is the option to ‘auto tune’ that will add parts to your car to take it to the top of its current car class, or make meet the requirements for any class above it. Simple but yet effective.

Customization once again plays a role in the cars themselves. You’ll find a lot of options to make your ‘rides’ the way you want to look including rally racing parts, off-road racing parts, street racing parts, etc. There are 30 new styles of rims as well wide selection of body kits from the likes of Rocket Bunny and Liberty Watts. You can also customize your liveries and your license. For those that have made custom liveries and designs in the past when playing other Forza games, you can import them from Forza Motorsports 6, Forza Horizon 2 and Forza Motorsports 5, so you won’t have to re-do all your designs from scratch.

It should be noted that the Forza Auction House and Storefront are back. For the uninitiated, the Auction House is a place to buy and sell cars with the community. You can buy low, sell high, simply do what works for you. You can find the car you want or sell the car that you don’t need. There is an “Elite” tab where you can view the top Forza creators. If you see one you like, you can visit their Storefront. You’ll see all their creations (e.g. vinyls, liveries, tuning, pictures, etc) and you will be able to pick something you like and get it for yourself. As of writing this, the Auction House was live and it I even purchased a 100K+ car for just under half of its’ regular value.

The visuals in Forza Horizon 3 are nothing short of amazing. Now, I have never been to Australia, but man does it ever look beautiful in the game. From the sun soaked beaches, the city skyline of Surfer’s Paradise, the flat and sandy Outback, to the lush green rainforests, the visual diversity of the game is incredible. Weather changes dynamically too, from sunny, to overcast, to wet and rainy. Each state of weather has amazing effects, from the sun breaking through the clouds and hitting all the scenery, including your car, to rain drops hitting your windshield, beading up, and running off. I was in awe a few times as I raced through the game’s rainforest just after a rainstorm, and the roads were slick and wet while the sun cast down it’s beams of light through the trees. Seeing this game in motion is truly a delight. If I had one, and I say only one, complaint about the visuals, it is that you’ll notice textures pop in now and then, but only when you are going at a slow speed; however, it definitely doesn’t take away from the game experience.

Technically speaking, the game runs at 1080p/30fps, but I honestly have to say it’s the fastest 30fps racer I have played. When driving any of the supercars and racing down an open stretch of highway, the sense of speed is almost unmatched in a racing game that is only 30fps, especially when using the inside or hood view. As for the framerate, it stays solid and I did not notice any slowdown throughout my antics all over Forza Horizon’s virtual Australia. I was happy to see that even with lots of traffic on the streets, the varying environments (e.g. city vs. outback vs. rainforest), different times of day (e.g. sunrise vs. afternoon vs. sundown vs middle of the night), and all the scenery around the map, nothing affected the framerate when playing.

Finally, there is the game’s sound, and I have to say that Playground Games did a fabulous job here too. Each car sounds like its own beast, from the buggy like Ariel Nomad (one of my favourites), a Ford Woody Wagon, to the cover car, the Lamborghini Centenario, your TV, headphones, or home theater speakers will sound great. As for the environmental effects, they too are spot on. Race in a flooded roadway and you’ll hear the splash surround you as you go through, race on the sand and you’ll hear it being kicked up under you, race on a wet road and you can hear the spray of the water, and race on dry pavement and you’ll hear your tires squeal as you start to lose traction. Of course if you’re near the beach you’ll hear the sound of the rolling surf, and if you’re in the rainforest you’ll hear your car’s sound amongst all the trees. It’s amazing to hear all the variance in the sounds, but it pays off in spades.

Of course we can’t forget the music of the Forza Horizon 3 either. There are 8 radio stations to listen to, and new to this year’s game is the integration of Groove and the ability to play any playlists/music you have on your Onedrive. In terms of the latter, the fact that the feature is offered is great, and you may find driving to your own music fun, but for me personally, driving to the radio stations found in Horizon 3 is a treat. From heavy metal, alternative, and even classical music, there is a lot to choose from. And of course you have the DJ’s to listen to as well, and they can spout off in-game time sensitive lines, which is perfect. You’ll also get some skill songs popping up now and then, which increases your bonus multiplier for the duration of the song and can make for some serious skill scores. In the end it will be up to you to decide what you listen too, but there are a lot of options to choose from, and you’ll enjoy them all.

Forza Horizon 3 manages to capture much of the familiarity of the previous two games while adding a whole lot more to do, making it as close to a perfect racing experience than ever before. The addition of cooperative campaign is smart as it allows you to play through the game with a friend or two and enjoy everything that there is to do in the game’s virtual land down under. The Horizon Blueprint feature is also a great addition as you are truly in charge of the festival’s events. I honestly tried to look for something wrong with the game, but each time I played, I had a blast, and when I was done I wanted to play more, and that speaks volumes. All in all, Playground Games has done an excellent job with the series’ third iteration and made it something that racing fans of all levels, from the diehard racer to the casual driving game fan, will enjoy. Forza Horizon 3 is a game that deserves your attention as you’ll be playing well into the late hours of the night, it’s that big.

Overall Score: 9.6 / 10 ReCore

At E3 2015 Microsoft teased a game called ReCore. It was a game shrouded in some mystery given that it was just a teaser trailer and not too much information, if any, was given. At E3 2016 this past June, ReCore was fully unveiled to the public and the reception was generally positive. Given that developers Comcept (headed by Mega Man legend Keiji Inafune) and Armature are fairly well respected, there was some buzz about it. The demo, which revealed a combination of platforming and shooting, wasn’t half bad, and the game was looking good at the annual E3 show. Fast forward to the present and ReCore has been released to the masses. At an entry price point of $40 ($50 CDN) many wonder if this Microsoft Studios published game is just a cheap one shot experience or something that was priced under the regular cost of AAA game, but would offer some ‘gaming’ value. Having put the game through its paces over the past week, we here at XBA believe the game deserves your time, even though there are a few hiccups during the adventure.

In terms of the game’s story, Earth is in a critical state and mankind has moved on to another planet where they are trying to terraform it. The new planet is known as Far Eden. Joule, the main protagonist, wakes up to find out that the whole terraforming process has been thrown “out-of-whack” and the robots that are on the planet to help them with the terraforming have turned against her and the other people, and to complicate things a little more, those ‘other people’ are nowhere to be found. Joule, and her corebot Mack (a robotic companion), set out to discover what has happened on Far Eden and try to get the project back on track. During their adventure they make a lot of discoveries about the world they are currently inhabiting, both good and bad. There are a few surprises to be experienced during your adventure too.

The narrative in ReCore is not that bad. During your quest you can learn a lot more about the story, and the people involved, by finding audio logs hidden throughout the open world and the ‘dungeons’ you play through. These audio logs add more context to the narrative, as you hear various tidbits from various people in charge of the mission to Far Eden, including Joule’s father, about stuff that was going on during the trip to, and start of, the terraforming phase. They are not crucial, but they do add further background about some of the things you find, and some of the things you’ll see. Sure, the story won’t win a Pulitzer Prize, but it’s not bad and will have your attention as you play.

ReCore is a great mix of Platforming, Combat, and Adventure. I was very surprised with how many elements are mixed into the gameplay. Being that the game is 3D in nature, I had concerns that the platforming would be disappointing; however, the mechanics for platforming are quite good. With the ability double jump and dash (mid-air or on the ground) you’ll find that there are many opportunities to make those jumps that seem almost impossible. I can’t count the number of times I thought I would not make a “leap of faith” only to just reach edge and climb up. The platforming mechanics are such that they manage to make this a better game.

As for the combat, it's fairly well implemented too, but it can be repetitive at times. As you progress through the game you are given access to coloured ammo that represents the colours of your enemies. You want to make sure to match the colour with that of your enemy’s core. You will encounter enemies later on that are not on your colour scheme (e.g. purple and green) but you can shift through the colours you have and find the one that seems to do the most damage in battle. As the enemies get tougher, and higher in level, you will find that you’ll be reacting and changing colours on the fly, using your autolock feature on the enemies while firing away. There are many instances when you’ll be forced to jump and dash out of harms way, and you’ll feel some insurmountable odds at times. Your corebots are your best friends though, as you are allowed to take two with you on your journey outside of the safety your own crawler. Use their weapons to attack certain enemies when you are fighting three or more and your battle becomes manageable. That being said, you’ll have to keep on your toes at all times when fighting multiple enemies who all have different coloured cores.

There are two main ways to vanquish your foes: you can whittle their shield and health all the way down causing them to explode or you can whittle their health to a certain point allowing you a chance to extract their core and get their coloured material. It’s up to you to decide as both methods are useful. Destroying your enemies gives you items that allow you to research blueprints and make new parts for your corebots, where as extracting your enemies core gives you material that you can fuse with your corebots own core to make them stronger in the areas of attack (red), defence (yellow), and energy (blue).

Progressing through the game seems to flow nicely, until you all of a sudden you hit an area where you need more ‘prismatic pores’. I was somewhat surprised that I could not advance any further a couple of times, and discovered that I had to go back to other areas of the map to collect more prismatic cores. Luckily there are indicators on the map after you move forward where these cores are located. It can be as simple as fighting a few waves of enemies protecting a chest holding one of these cores, to having to fight one special boss-like enemy who seems to have a knack at breaking your efforts, to extract its prismatic core. You can also go to some special dungeons that have prismatic cores to find within them too. Regardless of where you get these cores that are needed to advance, or open up other areas, you’ll find that it kind of breaks up the flow of what was a fairly good experience up to that point. Sure, it’s not a deal breaker, but it was kind of jarring to have to all of a sudden backtrack and collect more cores to advance.

There are a lot of RPG elements to ReCore, something that was not hinted at leading up to its release. You’ll find that changing parts on your corebots allows you to instill certain spiffs such as increased shield recharge and increased maximum health. To do this you have to research various blueprints that you discover in hidden chests throughout the games open world, as well as the levels that you explore. These blueprints rely on various materials to make the part you want, and the materials are obtained by destroying enemies and finding other chests full of mats. Of course the farther into the game you go, the harder the enemies, the better the materials you can get. There is also the idea of not only matching the colour of your weapon with the colour of the enemy, but certain corebots are stronger against certain types of enemies, no matter what the colour. It’s these RPG type of gameplay elements that I think will surprise many.

Now, all may seem good, but there are indeed a few setbacks that actually affect the gameplay experience. The first is the LONG load times. Yes, I put the caps for emphasis. I actually started to find that the load times were unbearable during one area that I was struggling. I took out my phone and timed the reloads after my deaths, and low and behold the load times were two minutes. Yes, I said two minutes. Throughout my gameplay experience there were a lot of long loading times, which I just didn’t understand. Another issue I had with ReCore were the in-game glitches. I found many times that geometry disappeared or I fell through the ground/floor resulting in me having to jump around to get my character on screen. I even had an issue where I was extracting a core during a key point of a boss battle and the game just stayed in the extraction animation for a couple of minutes. It would not let me move but I could still cycle through the colours of my weapon. Luckily though it eventually reset and the level continued. Finally, there were framerate issues now and then, as well as texture pop-up in the distance while exploring the outside world. These visual glitches were really disappointing given that at times the world of Far Eden looked incredible. From the character, corebot, and enemy design, the various rock faces, dungeons, platforms, and man made vehicles you could traverse to the shimmering sand, there were occasions that I was really happy to stop and just look around the environment.

ReCore is a single player only experience, so don’t expect to head online for any cooperative or versus play with others. My adventure took about 11-12 hours. I did some random exploring, searching for chests, and of course obtaining more prismatic cores. Something that I noticed towards the end of my adventure is that it seemed like the game was stretched out longer than it should have. I won’t add any spoilers here, but after you meet Victor, a character that is kind of key to some of the story, the lead up to the end seems forced. Platforming and enemies thrown at you just for the sake of adding a bit more. I found myself frustrated as the enemy fights could get difficult given what I had to face in the small area they presented it in. There is more to do after the final credits roll, as you can access and complete dungeons not related directly to the story (e.g. Arena or Traversal Dungeons) and each of these have their own challenges and/or secondary objectives. You can also search the open world to find any chests you may have missed and level up your character and corebots to the maximum level. Of course some of these also allow you to complete achievements should you wish to get all those. So, there is more to do after you finish the story, but it’s not imperative to do so.

ReCore is a game that is surprising in many ways. First off, with gameplay mechanics that were not advertised, the larger than expected game map, and the RPG elements found within, most will discover that there is quite a bit to do in Far Eden. That being said, the glitches, the long load times, and the uneven pacing of the story towards the end is some cause for concern. At the end of the day though, ReCore is a new IP brought to you from seasoned developers, and although it is far from perfect, gamers will no doubt have fun with it. Oh, and the cheaper price doesn’t hurt either.

Suggestions: Hopefully with an update or two to the game, the load times will be greatly decreased and the visual glitches will be mostly resolved.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Project CARS Game of the Year Edition

Project CARS started its life as a kickstarter campaign, which was relatively successful given the fact that the game was released. After a bit of research on the interwebz, one will discover that the game was made for $5,000,000, and the money was contributed by the gaming community as well as the developers themselves. It was released in May 2015 on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. It was received fairly well and got some pretty good reviews, but there were some critics out there who indicated that the game was full of bugs, felt not finished, and wasn’t even playable on some occasions. It seems that the Xbox One version had the most noted issues, from control input not registering, audio bugs, to framerate issues. It was a rough road (pun intended) for the Xbox One version given that some didn’t even recommend it at the time.

During the past year, developer Slightly Mad Studios has maintained their support for Project CARS fixing bugs, addressing issues identified by the community, and releasing DLC in the form of more cars and tracks. Many say that over the last year the game has become what they had hoped it would be and not the version that was released in 2015. With that in mind, Bandai Namco Games has released Project CARS: Game of the Year Edition (GOTY Edition).

Along with the core game that was released a year ago, you now get 50 more cars, 4 new tracks, and 60+ community created liveries. On top of that, you also get about 500 fixes that have occurred since the game launched. That is a lot of fixes I tell you. We here at Xbox Addict have been playing the game over the past week and a half or so, and I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised given how good it really is. But mark my words, it’s not a game for everyone, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Let’s get this out of the way right now, Project CARS: GOTY Edition is a simulation racing game, and its PC roots show in such that it’s not really a game that you can just ‘pick up and play’. It has a lot of depth, a lot of sim features, and the control of your cars really shows its’ sim pedigree. The amount of menu options is pretty staggering too. You have control of everything from your visuals, weather, car options, car set up, pit strategy, control options, and the list goes on. It’s pretty daunting to see so many settings at your fingertips. I know that it took me awhile to get through them all and figure out what I should or shouldn’t change in order to make my racing experience more tailored to my needs. I think that those obsessed with having total control of what and how to do things will really enjoy the options offered.

As I have spent most of my racing time in Forza 6 since that game’s release, Project CARS: GOTY Edition was somewhat of a change for me in terms of the actual racing. From the simulation feel, the control, to the way you progress through the game’s single player mode. The career mode is a simulated 10 years. You just don’t get into a car and race through different classes though, as you have sign with a team and start your career racing go-karts. The career mode does a good job of making it like you’re actually doing something meaningful, and not just racing. There are messages to be reviewed after every race, you can view your yearly calendar to see upcoming races, and there is even a “FanCHAT” section that simulates what it would be like for fans to tweet you during your season. It’s not just a ‘pick your car and go’ type feel.

As you progress through the ranks during each year of your career, you are given invitations to race in special events, sign with other teams, and get chosen for specific races. For each race you participate in there is a practice, qualifying, and race day. There is a lot of racing during each simulated calendar year, and you do have the option to skip/simulate races at certain points. As I look at my notes that I took during my gameplay/review time, one thing was in caps and underlined: THIS IS A DEEP GAME.

One of the game’s biggest challenges is the control, especially if you are using a controller. Now, remember, I have been playing Forza 6, and while that game has a sim aspect to it, they are two very different games, and control is one of those big differences. At first you might think that the control in Project CARS: GOTY Edition is off, or just too twitchy at times, but as you play you’ll learn that the control has nuances that have to be mastered. In some ways I truly believe that the game may even be better played with a force feedback steering wheel, but it is not needed.

As I went through the beginning of the career I was I was all over the track, but with time I was able to get the feel of each vehicle I was playing at the time, which in itself is part of the sim aspect as each car feels and handles differently, and seeing my times get better was rewarding. So although the control is indeed tough to master, it is manageable, and even fulfilling once you get the feel of it. Oh, and did I mention your track weather also affects your control, including dry, wet, to slightly damp roads? Of course it does, it’s a sim game.

Given the sim nature of Project CARS: GOTY Edition, you can tweak your car to your hearts content, but you’ll find that the tweaks are to the equipment that is already on your vehicle. You don’t add new parts, but you change such things as gearing, camber, breaking, etc. It’s amazing how much tweaking you can do. You can also save settings, so if you have a set up for a various track or two, then feel free to do so. For me personally, this was somewhat overwhelming. In Forza 6 I tend to rely on auto-tuning, as I am not a true gear-head, so having to try to tune my car on my own was quite daunting. Once again it leads me to point out the sim level of this game, and not in a negative manner either.

Should you want to take a break from the career mode, or want to get some time to practice on other tracks, there are a few more options open to you. There is a ‘Solo’ mode, where you can do a quick single race weekend, as well as an ‘Online’ mode, which is self-explanatory. You do get to view the servers and see what the racers are doing (e.g. tracks, cars, etc.). You can also choose a ‘Driver-Network’ mode, which is a special event mode where there are even prizes awarded at times, and there is the ‘Free Practice’ mode, which is great for practicing on tracks you may not know well. The final two modes are a ‘Quick Random’ mode, which is an online multiplayer mode where you are dropped into to a race with strangers and you don’t know what cars are being used or what track is being raced, and a ‘Time Trial’ mode, which is a chance to get the best laps of any particular race or track.

The online mode allows for up to 16 cars on any one circuit at a time. And like the career mode, there is a qualification session that is used to determine your position on the grid. I personally found that the qualification sessions added a bit of intensity to the experience as you want to get that better grid position than all the other online racers. Like any other racer that is online capable, it really comes down to those who you race against (bashers versus those who want a clean race) and the nature of the online connection. The few races I did were fairly enjoyable, and I did not come across to many of those bashers that I speak about. I have to say that there are some diehards out there who were accustomed to the sim aspect of the game, and boy were they good.

Graphics wise, from outside views (part of or the whole car in view), cockpit views, to all the tracks you race on (35 locations and 100 different track setups), they were well represented visually. You’ll get the usual staple of tracks from Silverstone, Laguna Seca and Nurburgring, to ones that I had no clue about like Rouen les Essarts (France), ZIO (China) and Snetterton (England). The tracks have been recreated in good detail including the sideline detail, crowds, and track specific features. As for those interior car views I mentioned, there are two different cockpit views, one from the driver’s side and one that is further back and centered.

There is an interesting helmet cam where you actually see from the eyes of the driver through their helmet. You can even see the outline of the helmet visor as well. Your view or head position will change as you drive too, such as those times when you enter into a corner, and you’ll also find that your focus will even change (e.g. speedometer and RPM cluster will be blurred when racing down a straightaway but when you slow down and enter a corner they become clear).

There are also different times of day to race in as well as different weather conditions including sun, rain, fog, clouds, dusk, night and others. The rain effects were fairly impressive. I noticed that when I was behind a group of cars on a wet track when it was raining that it became harder to see in front of me from the spray of all of cars then as opposed to being behind just one car. And as an added feature, weather can change as you race too. I had a one such race that included rain, then showers, then a sunny break, and back to showers and then rain.

Technically, Project CARS ran solidly. I can’t recall any slowdown, even when a large group of cars went into a tight corner at the start. The games draw-in is fairly consistent, although you will notice it slightly on some tracks. The Xbox version runs at 900p/30fps, and the experience is smooth all around. You’ll find lots of special effects too from shadows, lens flair, impressive lighting, and great water effects (e.g. rain on windows). The damage model is impressive too, from dents, hanging bumpers to hoods flying off and wheels breaking away. Overall Project CARS manages to hold its own against the visually pleasing Forza 6, or any other racing game on the Xbox One, for sure.

In terms of the game’s audio, Slightly Mad Studios did some good work here. From the high pitch whine of a go-kart to the roar of an Audi R8 V10, all the vehicles sound pretty good and very different from each other. As for environmental sounds, from rain pelting your windshield, knocking fenders with other cars as you enter a turn to the sound of your ‘racing brakes’ as you hit them to slow down when entering into an ‘S’ turn, you’ll notice a lot of sound. You’ll even have your pit crew manager speak up now and then too.

Project CARS: Game of the Year Edition is a simulation racer that deserves a close look. The car models are good, the tracks are well recreated, and the options for racing are quite plentiful. And although the game’s control is tough, and takes work, it’s not by fault as the game leans on its simulation roots. Make no doubt about it, this game is for the diehards as casual fans may find it too unforgiving, and that’s not a bad thing though as the game is good at what it does, providing a fairly deep and engrossing simulation racing experience that the hardcore fans will appreciate.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Coffin Dodgers

There is no denying that the world of kart racing games is owned by one franchise: Mario Kart. There, I said it. I thought it was prudent that we just get that out of the way right now. It’s true though, any and every kart game released on any platform is inevitably compared to Mario Kart given how much that series has gotten it right through the years. So, with that in mind, when heading into this review of the kart racer Coffin Dodgers, an indie game developed by Milky Tea Studios, and recently released on the Xbox One, I wanted to keep an open mind. Well, I am glad I did because if you strictly compare this game to the bar that Mario Kart has set you’d be very disappointed; however, Coffin Dodgers isn’t that bad, and there is some fun to be had here.

The premise in Coffin Dodgers is simple. A new resident has come to Sunny Hills, a nice retirement village for those to relax. It seems that the Grim Reaper has a plan, to retire in this little suburban setting and ‘harvest’ the souls of the residents that live near him. Well it’s not that easy, as seven feisty residents aren’t going to take this sitting down, or laying down when they are napping of course. They challenge the Grim Reaper to a tournament, one that involves scooter racing. It is a last man standing challenge; whoever is in last place at the end of each stage dies. What the Grim Reaper didn’t tell these seven brave seniors though is that once they lose, and their soul is his, they come back as a zombie racer hell bent on stopping anyone from winning.

The story itself is kind of interesting, but I feel there was a missed opportunity to make it really work. It starts off with a simple intro, from when the bad ol’ Reaper comes to town, to when the seven residents take a stand and challenge him to the racing tournament, but what’s there could have been more substantial. As you race you don’t get much of an update of the story and only a brief cutscene between stages of who lost and whose buried as a result. Even the ending is short lived. Personally, they could have done a lot more with the story telling and it could have been really enjoyable. In simple terms, it was a “swing and a miss” here. Sure, you might be able to get away with no story if your game is a stellar kart racer, gameplay wise, but as I mentioned earlier, Coffin Dodgers is not the best game out there, but it’s not bad either. Let me explain.

Coffin Dodger follows the same tried and true kart formula that is found throughout the genres existence. Here you have seven different characters, a kart (in this case scooter), power-ups, you earn XP and in-game money, you can upgrade your cart between races, and you have different environments to race in. Where part of the game’s weakness lies is in the control, as it is twitchy as hell. Yep, I said “…as hell”. It’s just not a smooth controlling game. I found myself having to really focus on fine tuning my in-game movement using the analog stick, more so than I remember doing in any kart racing game in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, it is manageable, but it could have been more refined, that is for sure.

Another issue is the length of the single player mode. It is only about a couple of hours max. Should you want to extend it you can try to get some of the more specific achievements, which aren’t that hard, but you may need to race certain tracks a few times in order to complete the task at hand and get the ‘cheevo’ sound to ‘ting’. The AI in the game can be cheap at times, but they are not hard to beat in the long run even though you’ll find the odd “face-palm” now and then as you wonder how they caught you, but this is not too often which is nice to see in a kart game.

But not all is bad though. The game has that ‘kart’ feel to it. There are some neat powers ups, such as the machine gun, speed burst, and missile launcher. There are others too, so there is some variety. There is also a melee attack that you can power up, and if you’ve powered it up enough you can knock your foe off in one strike. This is handy when you miss a power up or you haven’t come up on one yet. As you play, you are encouraged to modify your scooter, from the engine, the gearing to your storage basket and exterior mods, everything you modify has a purpose and makes your scooter a better racing machine. These aspects of the game are fairly good and something worth mentioning.

There is local multiplayer, via split screen, but there is no online play. I think that this game could have used the latter as it would have been nice to play the game online with some fellow reviewers that I know. The local multiplayer is ok though, as my son and I had some fun. He is turning 10 this year, and I found that he somewhat enjoyed racing against his ‘old man’ and that he didn’t mind the game at all; however, after about a half a dozen races or so he said that he was done and wanted to do something else.

Presentation wise, the track design is ok, but it could have been better. The visuals that correspond with all of the tracks have a simple cuteness to them, but you can tell that they either started to run out of ideas or that they didn’t have the time they needed to really make each environment more. That being said, there are some neat aspects to each level, such as the UFOs firing laser beams at the road in the ‘Farm’ level to the subway cars that block your path in the ‘Village’ levels main tunnel.

Technically I didn’t notice any issues even when the things got busy on the screen. Coffin Dodgers uses the Unreal 4 Engine, so when you get knocked off your scooter you become a limp crash test dummy and can be funny at times. Finally, the game’s sound is adequate at best. The kart sound effects, from engine to power-ups, get the job done, and the music is noticeable, but not memorable. If anything the game could have benefited from voice acting to tell the story and this is something that was lacking.

While Coffin Dodgers is not a bad game by any means, it does not excel in any one specific area. What really hurt this title from being something special was that it had a story that, if fleshed out, could have been comedy gold, even while the control was somewhat iffy as well. Luckily, the rest of the game, from the track design to the sound, was just good enough to keep it from belonging in the basement of bad indie titles, and for $11.99 you could definitely do worse.

Overall Score: 5.9 / 10 Action Henk

I have never been a “speed runner” game fan. It’s not because the genre isn't any good, it’s just that I am not adept at playing them given given my somewhat well known lack of patience that people have pointed out I can have, so I tend to stay away from them for my own sanity sake. With that being said, when I took on the review duties for Action Henk I really was somewhat hesitant in terms of what I was getting into. So, it was with an open mind, and prayers for my own sanity, that I started playing, and after more than a few runs of the various tracks offered, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with what developer RageSquid has done in creating Action Henk.

You shouldn’t expect much of a story with any speed runner, and this game is no different; however, there is something of a story here and it manages to set up why you are doing what you do and why you are doing it. Henk was once a “great” toy, actually, he was “Toy of the Year” back in the day, but since then he has since let himself go a bit (check out his belly) and someone steals his prized trophy that celebrates his once greatness. It’s time for Henk to get back into the ‘game’ and show that he still has some mad skills that made him such a star. He'll have to beat other toys to do this with the hope of getting back to greatness.

Action Henk starts in some child’s messy, but pretty cool bedroom. Each speed run takes place on a level that is made up of various items, such as the recognizable bright orange “hot-wheel” like tracks, wooden building blocks, and other stuff you might find in a bedroom filled with toys. You’ll be jumping, wall jumping, and butt sliding (yes, butt sliding) on some very well put together levels that shows RageSquid put some thought into each one. Don’t get comfortable though, as there is much more to Action Henk then the bedroom levels. As you progress through the game Henk is faced with more types of challenges, such as swinging (grappling hook) and super jumping (launch pad) as well as new areas.

As you play you’re gradually introduced to the more complex mechanics, and levels, and you must manage your way through them, even if you need to re-run more than a few levels. That being said, to master the harder levels is whole other task, especially later on. Luckily controls are spot on and as you take on the various challenges ahead of you there is the ability to reset at a past checkpoint (it won’t reset time though) and you can also retry the whole level at any time with a simple press of the ‘B’ button. You’ll be also racing against a ‘ghost’ that is your target time, and if you get stuck you can watch and see how the ghost gets through a particular section you may be stuck on. Mark my words though, even with some help like this you’ll still be challenged more often than not to get through a particular level.

You progress through the various stages which contain a number of levels in each one. As you beat each level you earn medals for your time (bronze, silver or gold) which tally together to eventually open more stages. Once you get through each level in the stage you eventually face a boss, which is another toy in the stage; beat the boss toy and you move on.

Should you get a gold medal in every level of a stage, a bonus level opens up. There are dozens upon dozens of levels to challenge you in Action Henk and each one takes anywhere from 20-40 seconds or so, but it’s not as easy as beating it on the first run, as I’ve mentioned above, you’ll be challenged a lot and you’ll be running and re-running various levels to get more medals or even just get through.

If there is one thing that is very evident with Action Henk is its addictiveness. You’ll want to play “one more time” in an effort to shave off a fraction of a hair more off your time so you can get a better medal, beat a score on your friends list, or climb the online leaderboard. Fans of the genre know that this is generally the way these speed runner games play, but for me it was amplified a bit as I haven’t played too many of these before.

There is also a multiplayer mode. You can’t help but appreciate the fact some form of same screen multiplayer is included allowing you to battle it out with friends when some bragging rights are at stake. Sit on the couch and race against your friends while yelling at each other to try to take them off of their "A" game. Kind of reminds me of gaming in the old days when you had to be in the same room.

Visually, Action Henk is pretty well done. The characters are well designed and I really appreciated the humour, right down to how Henk let himself get out of shape after he reached his peak. The levels are well crafted using items in each area to highlight the challenges you face on each level. Every level and stage is brightly coloured too and technically the game is solid.

There is a smattering of short cutscenes throughout the game as well, and although they are far from outstanding, their quality and voice acting suits the general style of the game, telling what narrative is there. As for the sound, music is suitable and really matches the 80’s or 90’s “action hero” aspect of a kid’s life (e.g. having the toys and posters in one’s room), but you’ll find that it doesn’t particularly add to the overall experience, which isn’t a bad thing, just something that is there.

Sure, at the end of the day Action Henk is not particularly original in its concept for a speed runner game, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Its setting is quite original, the learning curve is gradual, and if you want to master it you really need to practice, something that a game like this should have you do. If a noob like me could have fun with it, there is no doubt that fans of speed runners should enjoy it too.

Suggestions: An online multiplayer would be an added benefit for those looking for a bit of long-distance speed running against a friend.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops

Through the ID@Xbox program, there have been a fair amount of what would be considered smaller titles that continue to be released, enabling smaller developers to make games that can be downloaded onto the Xbox One HDD. We have seen so many different types of games hit the Xbox platform as a result and many hidden 'gems' so to speak. Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops., previously a mobile game, has been ported over to the bigger screen for some console gaming love. After spending some time shooting, running, and rescuing POWs, I have to say that developer Epiphany Games did a fairly good job making a mobile game into a console game.

Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops has two separate narratives given that the game is a melding of two different versions. There is the “Soldier” story and there is the “Special Ops” story, the latter being to one that follows the first, a sequel so to speak. Each of these stories represents each of the mobile versions that preceded the console version that is out now. The story is basic; you are fighting evil and need to conquer different types of enemy soldiers, and many of the levels have you completing specific tasks while doing so (e.g. destroying all enemy buildings, escorting people out of the warzone, or rescuing prisoners to name a few).

The story is not particularly engrossing, but it sets up each chapter of missions. I enjoyed the manner the story was told. You watch a set of comic book “story panels” that are very stylish. The cute characters that make up the Tiny Troopers universe take center stage along with a lot of text bubbles, but don’t worry about having to read, the text bubbles are accompanied by some cheesy, but very appropriate, voice acting.

The game is a twin-stick shooter, a genre that I have never been to adept at playing; however, Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops wasn’t too difficult to play. You control up to three characters, who are in a group, with the left analog stick and aim/shoot with the right analog stick. A few buttons (e.g. RT, RB & LT) are assigned to some more powerful weapons such as grenades, rocket launcher and air strike. You can purchase a ‘supply’ drop during combat and a package drops into battle with goods, but you’ll also find some of weapons throughout the level.

If there was any frustration in controlling your characters it was the fact that you’ll find when controlling a group of three, one of them can easily get ‘hung-up’ on something in the environment, such as a rock, tree, or fence post. To manage this, you’ll have to move your other character or two to allow the stuck character to be able to line up and move back into formation. It is not a deal breaker, but just something that could become a nuisance now and then.

As you play through each mission you kill as many enemies as you can while completing your main objectives, all of which total a score that is based on your kills, what you destroy, and more. It’s not that simple though as there are local residents that you have to shoot around and neutral targets to avoid as killing or destroying these takes points away. You can also find dog tags and medals scattered throughout the level, along with enemy intel and/or other enemy weapons that should be disarmed. The more you kill/destroy in a row the higher your multiplayer will go, maxing out at 4x. It all helps in achieving your overall high score. There are also four difficulty levels that you can choose from during each mission.

Once you complete a mission your score is converted into ‘command points’ which you use to purchase upgrades, items and outfits. Upgrades come in the form of rate of fire, increased damage, accuracy, longer firing range, speed, etc. You can also unlock other ‘mercs-for-hire’ to assist you on various missions too. As you play your soldiers earn XP and rank up, becoming tougher in future battles. If one of your soldiers dies in battle, you can resurrect them at the end of the level using the medals you’ve found throughout the levels and game. If you don’t have enough medals, then they are KIA’d forever.

In terms of gameplay length, you can finish this game it in one sitting, but that is not how this game should be played. In total there are found 60 missions found within eight different chapters, four chapters per story (Soldier & Joint Ops). You’ll find that each mission level takes anywhere from 5-10 minutes or so, depending on what you need to do, and how much you look around. Add everything up together and you end up with a bit to do. That being said, you won’t want to finish this game in one sitting as it is something that you should be playing in order to take a short break from the routine of playing other games or if you only have a short time period to get a gaming fix. It’s not that the game is bad, but it’s mobile roots show in terms of playing in short bursts, and in some ways it defines how it should be played.

As an added bonus, there is a zombie ‘horde’ like mode. Here you are tasked to survive increasingly harder waves of troops of undead soldiers and, wait for it…...zombie chickens. Although it’s a nice add on, and a bit of a change from the regular gameplay, you will find that it becomes somewhat repetitive even though the game does try to add some different scenarios. I have to say though, that as a mindless distraction, this mode still does work out ok. It would have been nice to have some sort of multiplayer (local or online) for the game as a whole, but it does not. This would could have been an added feature that was worthwhile.

In terms of Tiny Troopers presentation, the visuals are simple while the sound manages to add a bit more to the game. You won’t find a lot of detail to the game’s levels, but the simple style and polygonal look don’t detract from the gameplay. The characters are fairly cute, and adds to the simplistic charm; however, as a sum the game’s looks are simple and uncluttered and they won’t wow you. As for the sound, I was somewhat impressed as the music matches each level and you’ll notice that as you get closer to ‘conflict’ it gets louder and more intense. Sound effects, like the graphics, are basic, but they match the cuteness of the characters, and you’ll even hear the gunfire and explosions of other battles in the distance. Overall, the presentation for this game works, given the content and style the game aims for.

Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops is definitely a fun little ID@Xbox title that many people will enjoy in short spurts. Sure, it’s not a Triple ‘A’ title that is a must have, but for 10 bucks it’s a game that you’ll find you can come back to often and get reasonably entertaining gaming experience. With a cute presentation and easy to pick up gameplay, it is an ID@Xbox title that definitely shows you don’t have to provide some engrossing and deep gameplay to have some fun, and it’s all offered at a very affordable price.

Suggestions: An added local or online multiplayer could have added so much more, maybe if you make a sequel you can consider this add-on next time. It would add further replayablility to the overall experience.

Overall Score: 6.3 / 10

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