Mad Max Review

There's a good reason why the new Mad Max game occasionally resembles this year's Mad Max: Fury Road: it's a canonical prequel that pits you against Scabrous Scrotus--son of the film's sinister Immortan Joe. Mad Max's wasteland is greasy and dusty, a place where mechanical monstrosities clash against the natural beauty of the desert. You play the part of Max, an unfortunate wanderer with a troubling past. You charge across open roads in search of redemption, running over those who stand in your way. Driving is central to life in the wasteland, and it's the basis for the game's best moments, too. The combination of an intriguing world and great car combat make Mad Max an occasional joy to play, but shallow ground combat and a handful of other missteps ultimately drive the game off the road.
At the start, you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time when you're assaulted by Scrotus and a pack of his sinewy war boys. They steal your beloved car, the Interceptor, leaving you empty-handed. However, fortune smiles upon you when a Gollum-like mechanic by the name of Chumbucket crosses your path. He's convinced that you're a hero of legend, the "Angel," and he's a whiz with both a wrench and a harpoon, making him the perfect companion in the hard-driving and violent wasteland. You and Chum fend off desperate tribes and push back against Scrotus' forces as you take contracts and hunt down fresh parts for your new chariot, the Magnum Opus. Your ultimate goal is to build a vehicle that's strong enough to cross the void known as the Plains of Silence, where you'll either find freedom, or death on the other side.
When you're trying to survive in a violent wasteland, trimming facial hair is your last concern.
Together, Chum and Max are fast and lethal in the Magnum Opus, with Chum manning a small cache of weapons in the rear while you steer the car. Picking apart enemy vehicles and guard posts is a cinch with your harpoon, which is the most important weapon in your arsenal. While driving, press one button to slow down time and highlight nearby objects and people, and press another to launch a harpoon or explosive lance. Alternatively, you can tap the circle button to auto-fire at the closest target, but it's an unattractive option when it's vital that you target specific objects; there's no point in ripping off a car's tire when you can just as easily yank out the driver. It's normal to be confronted by three or four cars at once, and though some carry enemies that will try to hop onto your car, you can purchase spikes to deter hop-ons, resort to your trusty shotgun, or pull over and fight it out with your fists.
Max and Chumbucket ride into battle on the Magnum Opus.
Even when surrounded by enemies, you're an effective and brutal fighter. Watching Max man-handle thugs can be entertaining, but the part you play--controlling Max--isn't very interesting or rewarding. Mad Max's combat borrows from Warner Bros.' recent Batman and Shadow of Mordor games, where mashing one button dishes out contextual attacks, and another, when pressed while an icon appears over the head of an attacking enemy, initiates a parry maneuver. You can attack using your shotgun, but you rarely want to because bullets are hard to come by. You also have the ability to roll and evade incoming attacks, but only a few enemies ever justify the effort. The combat system is so simple at its core that nearly every fight can be won by alternately tapping attack and parry, save for a few boss battles where unblockable attacks are introduced. Watching Max make quick work of enemies is occasionally impressive, but when the majority of fights in the game can be easily exploited, there's no challenge to overcome, and no sense of accomplishment. When put side-by-side with car combat, which is complex, full of possibilities, and requires precision and skill to succeed, Mad Max's ground combat feels shallow.
Mad Max also doesn't do a good job of imposing desperation upon you, a feeling that is necessary if the wasteland's threats are to be taken seriously. It's true that water, fuel, and food are hard to come by, so when you find a can of dog food, you eat it. When you come across a family of maggots feasting on a corpse, you take advantage of your rank in the food chain. Water can come from many sources, but never in large supply. Eating and drinking are the only ways to revitalize yourself in the game, but you quickly learn that carrying an empty canteen isn't that scary. For one, beyond the occasional barrage of explosives that come from fortified camps, you rarely face dire situations, and though it may seem like you would need to rehydrate from time to time because you're going full-throttle in the middle of a hot desert, I never noticed any gradual, deleterious health impacts from exposure. Emergent vehicular battles in Mad Max's open world can jeopardize your car, but Chum quickly fixes it whenever you aren't moving, and a generous fast-travel mechanic lets you magically skip the experience of driving through enemy territory. It may be convenient, but adding fast travel to Mad Max is like adding a "skip" button to a fighting game that automatically takes you to the next round.

You can purchase new parts for the Magnum Opus and upgrades for Max that impact your abilities and appearance. You earn new car parts from the leaders of various regions, either by completing fetch quests or dismantling enemy outposts. After a new part is unlocked, you have to purchase it using scrap metal that you collect around the world. You'd think that any old metal would qualify as scrap, but you'd be wrong. You can occasionally collect large amounts of scrap by taking an enemy car back to base, but you normally acquire it from glowing piles of metal that are sparingly strewn about the wasteland. These piles can include items like a muffler, which you conveniently stick in your pocket. I suppose it's helpful that you can carry multiple cars worth of metal on your person, but it doesn't make much sense. We don't mind this in games where fantasy trumps reality, but Mad Max tries to sell you a world where characters are defined by their abilities and limitations, yet it constantly introduces things that contradict this message. It's also disappointing that Chum can't help you collect parts while you're driving the car. He can hang on to the back when you're driving incredibly fast, and repair the Magnum Opus when it's falling apart, but he can't hop off and help you gather items. Having to stop the car, get out, pick up the pieces, and get back in before hitting the road is a frustrating process that slows you down and exposes you to nearby enemies.
It may be convenient, but adding fast travel to Mad Max is like adding a "skip" button to a fighting game that automatically takes you to the next round.
As you perform certain feats in the game, such as killing multiple people using your car or pulling down enough sniper towers via harpoon, Max's reputation rises, and he can pick up new gear, facial hair, clothing, and an upgraded shotgun. More importantly, Max can increase his efficiency as a scavenger by trading in coins to a mystic that resides on top of certain cliffs. He's an odd duck, but like Chum, his peculiarities add to the world's mythology in a great way, as he speaks of your past and buried emotions. Save for a mother and daughter duo that you meet briefly towards the end of the game, this if the only time Max's past is a topic of discussion. The mystic always departs by blowing noxious powder in your face, putting you in the proper state to receive his "gifts," such as the ability to magically receive bonus portions of water when you refill your canteen from the game's limited water sources. The mystic is a worthy cast member, but his gifts stand in the face of your struggle to survive. A character stat shouldn't determine how much water you get from a small pail in the desert; the pail itself should.
A massive storm drapes the wasteland with wind and lightning. It's an impressive display that makes driving difficult yet exciting.
There are similar issues found throughout Mad Max, in fact. Fuel, like ammunition, is a rare commodity, or at least it should be according to the story. Oddly, it's not unusual to find fuel cans that repeatedly respawn in front of your eyes. You'd also think that being run over by a car would kill you outright if not seriously injure you, but Mad Max puts more weight behind the punch of a withered nomad than it does a three-ton war machine. If you're playing sloppily during a fight, a few punches is all it takes to bite the dust. Stand in front of oncoming traffic, however, and you can endure getting run over five or six times before you start to worry about your health. In fact, I got so good at being struck by cars that I eventually learned (unofficially) how to jump into the windshield of an oncoming car and perform a triple-misty-flip, landing gracefully on my feet. It's impossible in theory, silly to witness, and easily repeatable. You can also stand in fire without getting hurt, but only some fires; experience taught me that a burning car in the open-world isn't as hot as a flame-thrower that blocks your path during a mission, for example.
Chumbucket readies the harpoon.
Other rules are randomly imposed upon you by the game that take away your freedom with no justification within the story. You have a large, boundless open world to explore, but venture off the map for a few seconds, and a warning screen tells you to turn back, or its "game over." A particular mission wants you to explore an underground tunnel, but if you try to navigate narrow corridors on foot, rather than in your car, a similar warning screen appears. An open-world Mad Max game should force you to contend with the wasteland's harsh elements, but also give you the freedom to go where you please.
Mad Max fails to mix story and gameplay with finesse, but there are elements of the game that stand out as impressive, nonetheless. Raging, electrical storms set a new bar when it comes to weather effects, as fast winds carry tons of dust and debris. The chaos creates a deafening and blinding atmosphere that's occasionally illuminated by lighting bolts and the fires they light on the ground.
They may not hurt too much, but it's still a good idea to get out of the way of moving vehicles.
A late battle forces you to chase down a convoy and dismantle Scrotus' massive war rig. Regular car combat is fun, but the scale of the war rig and the relentless nature of Scrotus' horde make this battle truly memorable. You pick off small fries one by one as you try to keep up with the war rig. Occasional breakdowns may cause you to pull over and repair your car, which makes the chase all the more thrilling. The story sequences that follow attempt to teach you the cost of pursuing your dreams in the land of nightmares, and it's the best moment in the game's story, though that's not saying much.
Soon after, however, dead characters are magically brought back to life and your journey continues onward. The ending, like many of the game's minor faults, devalues your struggle to survive in the harsh wasteland. It's a shame because Mad Max's world in the game is beautiful, grim, and fascinating. Some interesting characters, impressive environments and great car combat draw you in and incentivise you to keep going, but it's when you get out of the car that things fall apart. Mad Max's combat system is too dumbed down to enjoy, and repetitive activities such as searching for scrap and invading small enemy camps gets old fast. Mad Max offers some great experiences, but for a game that tries to impose the realities of survival on you, it does a poor job of following up on this pressure. Mad Max is too focused on providing you with an open-world that's filled with missions, and not focused enough on making those missions worth your time.

Toy Soldiers: War Chest Review

At first blush, the combination of war toys with classic action figures from 1980s cartoons in Toy Soldiers: War Chest--such as He-Man and G.I. Joe--is exactly where Toy Soldiers has seemingly been leading from the start. After all, the series’ very premise has revolved around the childhood bliss of combating plastic heroes and villains in small, detailed landscapes. War Chest could have been just that, but its plastic-like sheen is scuffed by issues like microtransactions, content locked behind Uplay, and irritating technical problems.
Thankfully though, this is still the Toy Soldiers that so many have come to enjoy. Once again, your task is to keep your toy box out of the hands of enemy forces who march their way across a colourful model diorama set on the floors of bedrooms and parlours. On this battlefield of plastic trees, scattered dice and toppled coffee mugs, you defend against waves of oncoming plastic toys in the form of action figures, armored vehicles, and aircraft. The march of these persistent, though admittedly charming enemies can only be halted by the use of strategically placed turrets that shred anything that gets close into tiny plastic chunks. Killing enemies, who adorably snap back to their action figure poses upon death, is rewarded with currency, which can be used to buy more turrets or to upgrade the ones you currently own by beefing up their attack power or range, or by adding defensive barriers. You can commandeer a turret at any time, which is a big help when you want to fire at an enemy beyond your own turret’s range.

You play through the decent-sized campaign commanding one of several swappable heroes, each supported by an army brandishing a particular motif. Kaiser Wilhelm, who makes a triumphant return from the first Toy Soldiers, is joined by the Rainbow Brite-esque StarBright; the pen-and-paper RPG-inspired Dark Lord and the futuristic Phantom--my personal favorite of the bunch. War Chest won’t shock and awe in the aesthetics department, but the varied cast is paired with some amusing themes, and not only for the turrets. Throughout the game you’ll find yourself in landscapes carved by war-torn trenches or gritty cobblestone walls, dioramas featuring rainbows, or the glowing blue crystals of an alien planet. Earning killstreaks slowly fills an on-screen bar up to three tiers, which allows you to run around the battlefield as your chosen hero or call down a tougher fighter or a super-powered mega weapon that wipes the field clean of enemies, leaving nothing more than your turrets and a feeling of grim satisfaction.
But what about He-Man or Cobra, or the other more alluring heroes featured in War Chest? Well, you can absolutely have them--for a price. The base game itself comes in at $15, which is decent for the out-of-the-box content. However, to get He-Man, Cobra, G.I. Joe’s Duke or Assassin Creed’s Ezio, who for once actually stands out like a sore thumb, you need to shell out $5 for each. Or, you can get all four extra heroes together in the Hall of Fame edition, which costs $30. So the question remains: is the price worth the nostalgia trip?
He-Man is available, not by the power of Grayskull, but by your wallet.
A more pertinent question may be: are the optional heroes actually better than the original four? Well, prepare for some fine print not found on the back of the toys’ packaging. The heroes of War Chest are powerful, which makes mowing down legions of infantry and armored foes some of the most fun the game has to offer. But the melee-focused He-Man is awkward, clumsy in his sword swings, and completely helpless when taken online where long-range heroes need only back away and fire to bring the mighty Hero of Eternia to his knees. Each of these heroes is equipped with their own unique weapon, but unlike the regular gang who are able to swap among a small cache of unlockable weapons, they are limited to only three. Of course, it does make sense that these heroes should only wield their signature gear, but that doesn’t change the fact that you end up paying for popular characters that don’t completely stack up against their unknown counterparts.
It is possible to overlook these shortcomings for the sake of nostalgia. But, still, it’s disappointing to pay for what looks like a good meal, only for it to be later served with no sides. Regardless, it’s admittedly difficult to deny that watching Cobra’s army face up against Ezio’s forces made up of assassins and da Vinci-inspired war machines brings a special kind of joy.
Take control of a turret to wipe out toys and earn killstreaks.
There are more obstacles impeding access to content. You are required to connect to Uplay--and it will pester you until you do so--in order to unlock special weapons. For instance, Kaiser Wilhelm’s shiny, gold-plated Maxim machine gun can only be purchased with points earned by completing Uplay objectives, but to do that you must be logged into the service. The aforementioned multiplayer pits two teams of up to four local and online players, but you are barred from playing online until you flash your Uplay membership card.
War Chest is also not the smoothest experience around. There is a myriad of technical hurdles to climb over every time you boot up the game. For example, after I had played for around ten hours, crashes had become so frequent that I actually began getting used to the sudden stops. And when the game isn’t crashing, it gets stuck in infinite loading loops, leaving you plenty of time to reevaluate your purchase Graphical glitches also pop in from time to time, causing certain textures to flicker whenever you try to focus the camera in a turret you’re commanding.

Overall, Toy Soldiers: War Chest is not bad. But a laundry list of unfortunate drawbacks keeps it from becoming the exciting box of good times and nostalgia that it could have been. There is enjoyment to be had, however, sporting loads of family friendly entertainment and featuring a difficulty level that can occasionally be tough, but never frustrating. However, War Chest is like a set of toys you always wanted, but upon removing the packaging you find the collection is half complete and floating listlessly to the ground is an order form. Play time is over.

Sorcerer King Review

There's a line in The Lord of the Rings that succinctly captures the desperation of the Fellowship's forlorn journey. It comes near the end, as Sam and Frodo make their way through Mordor. Sam says that he's not sure that they'll have enough food to get home after all is said and done, but Frodo's response--"I wouldn't worry Sam. It's just to get there …"--sells the air of fatalism, the creeping realization that this trek to save the world will almost certainly claim their lives. It's a quote I kept coming back to throughout my dozens of hours with Sorcerer King. Despite its almost saccharine, cartoon aesthetic, Sorcerer King is a morose adventure.
In Sorcerer King, the world's been taken over by a nigh-omnipotent wizard. He's fractured the land, scattered the world's people, and committed himself to casting a spell to unmake existence. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's not too far from J.R.R. Tolkien's works. Your job is to lead one of the last remaining nations against this incredible force and stop the apocalypse.

As you might suspect, the deck's been stacked against you right from the beginning. You're small, weak, and the few soldiers you have defending with you are poorly trained and poorly equipped. That insignificance is reinforced by a Doomsday counter, which steadily ticks up as the Sorcerer King gathers his power--a constant reminder of the struggle that lies ahead. So you set yourself to vying for the allegiance of other races, forging new, better weapons and armor, and gathering what strength you can before one last, glorious battle to determine the fate of the world.
It's a tired setting, but Sorcerer King executes the idea with remarkable deftness. As you build your empire and colonize new lands, you'll find dozens, if not hundreds of little vignettes. Packed away in libraries, abandoned villages, and old dungeons, these scenes are the meat of the narrative. Each one provides a piece of a much larger branching narrative that collectively serves several roles.
First, and perhaps most importantly, they're each expertly written and packed with cute twists or hilarious, tongue-in-cheek dialogue. Rarely trite, these clips ooze style and flair, brightening an otherwise hackneyed setting. They also help you role play a bit. Your leader may be ruthless and determined or may be the snarky sort. Those traits are culled from your decisions in these rogue-like scenarios. It's a novel way to approach the issue of personality development, particularly in a strategy game, but it works and, indeed, it's brilliant and affecting.
With a keen eye and sharp intellect, you can take on far more enemies than you'd otherwise think possible
Your choices have broad implications too. Establishing new alliances, one of the other key tactics for success against the eponymous Sorcerer King, depends on the decisions you've made up to that point. Creatures and spirits will react to your reputation, and may be more or less willing to join forces. Given the overwhelming nature of the threat, those friendships are vital. With whom you choose to shack up matters, and could mean the difference between a successful outcome or the end of the world.
These two facets of your grand strategy, while important in their own right, feed into the broader theme of marshalling armies and hammering out your empire. You are the resistance here, and you're fighting a defensive war against a much better and stronger opponent. Deception, gathering magical equipment and summoning mythical creatures are, next to forging those alliances, your best option if you want to succeed in the quest to save the world..
As you continue your campaign against the big baddie, you'll quickly realize that even your best troops are pretty pathetic. Armed with little more than swords and spears, they don't have much hope against the legions of demons and mutated beasts at the Sorcerer King's beck and call. You can, however, equip your armies with new gear. You can loot special equipment from corpses, craft it yourself or find it in one of the game's vignettes. Regardless of the source, superior accoutrements can help an average knight beat dragons. Because of this, Sorcerer King breaks from more traditional strategy games, resembling its Civilization-inspired brethren only in the broadest of strokes.
Instead, Sorcerer King is a delightful fusion of genres that should always fit together well--role-playing and strategy. Both tend to play to the theme of growing stronger and developing over time, but until now, neither have found each other in quite so satisfying a package before.
Sorcerer King is a delightful fusion of genres that should always fit together well--role-playing and strategy.
Since strategy tends to deal in the very large scales of nations and continents, while RPGs tend to stick to the realms of the personal, it is surprising to see everything click so well here. Each time one of your troops crosses paths with a monster or minion of the Sorcerer King, the game will shift into a tactical battle. Here, you can individually direct your pieces, use a variety of combat manoeuvres, and then toss in some of your own spells to support them. Your options here are numerous, and you're encouraged to explore them all. You can easily win out-levelled fights, provided you mix in the right amount of planning and tactical prowess.
Conversely, on the strategic map, your time will be spent moving items and units around the field to cover outposts and safeguard your cities. Thankfully, Sorcerer King includes some useful menus and search functions, letting you easily organize your inventory. You can rework the equipment for any of your troops as needed. Provided they fit the necessary requirements, you can pass around top-level gear to your outpost easily, and, as long as no two get hit during the same round, you can defend a large area with relatively few men, if you so choose.
The benefit here is that such tactics should give you a better shot at stopping the apocalypse, which is what this is all about. The stark, asymmetric backdrop of this war presents a very unique stage. Your only goal is to get there and beat the Sorcerer King. Everything else--creating long-term infrastructure, setting effective tax policies, all the minutiae that form the heart of other strategy games--is secondary. During some runs, I even caught myself sacrificing scores of my own people, essentially committing mass genocide, for the sake of saving everyone. Sorcerer King consistently encourages this kind of desperation, particularly as the game's omnipresent Doomsday counter ticks closer and closer to The End.
The map has lots of unusual land types, each with their own properties.
Predictably, the asymmetrical nature of the game bars any sort of multiplayer, a staple in most strategy games. While there is a campaign mode, it's pretty bare bones, with only a few substantial differences from a round of play in sandbox mode. This limits replayability quite a bit, despite its seeming absence of limitations. The vignettes and factions become predictable after a while, and after your eightieth Magical Axe of Awesomeness, the charm of finding new items runs a little thin. That said, what is here is special and should keep you busy, even it wears out after a while.
Desperation is the best frame to understand Sorcerer King, and the game is fortunate that it's both fresh and effective, presenting a wholly unique take on the same fantasy and strategy tropes we've all seen dozens of times before. But desperation isn't the only thing Sorcerer King has going for it. Throughout, vignettes treat you to pieces of distilled levity and constant growth, item discovery incentivizes constant exploration, and the complex political world backing the whole campaign forces some tough choices. Together, these pieces come together to create a great twist on the classic 4X formula.

Dishonored: Definitive Edition Review

There is nothing a player should relish more in Dishonored than the opportunity to stare down the barrel of a loaded gun. Facing the very real, very quick possibility of being shot opens up a vast, bloody rainbow of possibilities, and there’s very little that the imagination can conceive of that Dishonored does not provide the tools to achieve. You could stop time, and simply step out of the way. Or even better, stop time, possess the shooter, and walk him into the path of his own bullet. You could stop the bullet itself, load it you’re your own gun, and shoot back before your enemy reloads. You could teleport behind the enemy and shove a blade through his last meal. Or strap a bomb to his back before he even realizes the bullet missed.
To don the mask of Corvo Attano--a master assassin--is to invite a freedom of ingenuity the likes of which, one console generation and an actual Thief reboot later, remains an elusive, rare thing. Dishonored is a game that felt ahead of the curve three years ago, and only just now feels right at home. That just barely excuses just how little work went into improving Corvo’s second go-around.

There is certainly an argument to be made that Dishonored didn’t really need anything new to get a re-release. To those who will be taking their first voyage into Dunwall, Dishonored will be a revelation. On paper, it’s little more than a simple revenge tale: The Empress of a far away, sea-faring, steampunk kingdom has been assassinated, and you, her royal protector, has been framed for the murder. While rotting in jail, you're visited by a Satanic figure called The Outsider. He gives you supernatural powers, which will help you exact vengeance and liberate Dunwall from the usurpers who rule in the Empress’ stead.
The devil is in the details. This isn’t just an Assassin’s Creed situation of moving to the proper vantage point to make a kill, escaping and awaiting further orders after the coast is clear. Every murder and every mercy affects the world, brings fear or hope to the populace, feast or famine, peace or disease. While it is possible to barge through Dunwall, slaying everything in your path with extreme prejudice, you’ll find the task at hand becoming a bleak ordeal. It becomes a story of desperate public servants shattering under the weight of an unyielding zombie plague with no cure, of a frightened populace that shrieks at the sight of your mask, where recovery is impossible, with a new pile of corpses replacing the twice-killed ones faster than they can be removed.
This guy will literally never see you coming.
The game values the nuanced touch far more, as should the player. A straight up, face-to-face kill is tense and gratifying, but the game reveals its true nature in the avoidance, in the trapping, in the justice of the environment. Why kill what an angry mob, abused subordinates, or a jilted lover will do for you? Much of Dishonored rides on its characters. Voiced by a surprisingly diverse cavalcade of character actors, they are well-written, well-motivated aristocrats and poor, with no middle-class to work more effectively against the powers that be. The main targets stand directly in opposition of that, prime examples of the worst aspects of humanity. They may deserve to die, but you can deliver something worse, or at least something more apt if you’re listening to their victims, if you’ve been paying attention to your environment, if you’re truly and thoroughly exploring your world.
For less vital enemies, teleportation ability Blink is the bread and butter for all things here, allowing you to reach new heights, traverse chasms, and vanish from harm’s way in an instant, as well as reach the hidden power-ups scattered throughout the game. Where you go from there is all a matter of need. Tired of having to hide the bodies when another guard comes snooping? Buy a power that turns victims to ashes. Need to weasel your way through a crowd of guards? Buy an ability to possess people and animals, walk through the trouble in your enemy’s skin. Need a distraction? Summon a swarm of plague-infested rats, watch your enemies squirm. Or, even better, get creative, slap an explosive device onto a rat, possess the rat to guide him into a circle of foes, and set off the boom.
Now imagine George Michael’s Last Christmas playing over this shot.
Dishonored isn’t quite an open world game, but the streets, alleyways, and decadent mansions are so dense with traversable nooks and paths the relative linearity of the stages is completely obscured. It also helps that there isn’t a side mission in the entire game that doesn’t serve a greater purpose rather than just to fill empty space. The focus, instead, is in making the world feel lived in, practical, and used. Unlike most steampunk, Dunwall doesn’t feel sterile, like a brand new appliance that just happens to have people living in it, but like a real city that has seen life, death, crime and providence. The city runs on its whaling industry, and the evidence of how its affected life is virtually everywhere. These are all important lessons in world-building many a developer has yet to truly learn, making Dishonored look like even more of a step forward. It’s a game with flaws, for sure. The final third of the game is rather bland and flavorless compared to all the little captivating touches that grace the rest. The DLC switches gears from Corvo to rival assassin Daud, and it’s a very different feel, though on average, it’s not necessarily better (though the trippy and introspective second episode, The Brigmore Witches, fares better than the rather procedural and dry Knife of Dunwall). Still, the main event is a marvel of unique, engrossing game design.
The problem, of course, is that this is a marvel millions of players have taken in before, and there isn’t much here to make them take it again besides sheer nostalgia. Think of the other games donning the moniker of “Definitive”. Tomb Raider got a nice graphical uptick, a bump to 60fps, and an enhanced character model for Lara Croft. DmC: Devil May Cry got textural improvements, a slew of new game modes and features. Dishonored has gotten an uptick in resolution, and all three DLC packs are included. The one next-gen only innovation is on PS4: the voice of the Heart, an item allowing you to not only find power-enhancing runes and charms, but hear the thoughts and sins of anyone you points it at, now comes through the DualShock 4’s speaker. The distressing, intimate, and creepy musings from the device are an awesome and unnerving part of the experience. It’s a wonderful tweak to an existing feature, and in no way does it make the game worth another $20-$40 for someone who already owns it. There’s even a strange trade-off that cancels out even that minor addition: Load times for the game have gotten abnormally long. I played the game off of a completely digital copy, and loading a save sometimes took close to a minute, which would be fine for an initial load, but insanity considering the game throws up a loading screen for just about any major transition in or out of a building, or when you respawn after death.
Yeah, thanks, I think we can tell what this guy does for a living, but thanks, in-game marker.
What we’re left with here is the best console version of Dishonored that money can buy--and make no mistakes, that still makes this the best version of a fantastic game—but as a re-release on systems far more capable than their predecessors, this is a perfunctory release that doesn’t justify the price tag except out of sheer convenience. There’s no in between here; there’s either every reason to pick up this version if you've never played Dishonored, or no reason whatsoever if you've donned Corvo's mask before.

Super Mario Maker Review

I am not a good game designer, but I knew that before playing Super Mario Maker. In other games with a built-in "creator" mode, like LittleBigPlanet, I would just ignore the creation aspect and focus on playing. Mod and level design tools for most RPGs require too much dedicated study and practice to draw me in. But with Mario Maker, it's incredibly simple to design a hideous torture chamber. Or indeed any product of intentionally horrible, unfair game design. I'm still not very good at it, but I'm beginning to love creating.
Super Mario Maker is essentially two games: A design tool and a traditional 2D platformer. The tool aspect lets you crib elements from several Mario games and toss them together into a level of your own making, which you can then upload online for everyone else to play. You choose the overall graphical skin from among Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, or New Super Mario Bros. U. This affects the way everything looks and sounds, and how some items are used (for example, Mario World allows access to Cape Mario while New Super Mario Bros. U swaps that with Propellor Mario). And the background that you choose (airship, underwater, castle, etc.), determines the stage and musical themes.
The mix-and-match nature allows for exciting and anachronistic additions to familiar scenarios, like dropping a version of Bowser Jr. into an 8-bit style underwater Mario level. And some items can be combined for interesting new effects--placing a POW block in a pipe creates a pipe the distributes POW blocks, and putting a mushroom on pretty much any item, or enemy, makes it significantly larger.

It's a simple system that involves dragging and dropping different items from the menu bar into the environment. Copying, deleting, and drawing platforms is as easy as swiping and drawing across the Wii U tablet. As you place your level's obstacles and platforms, little background elements pop up adding color and variety to the scenery. And with an undo "dog" button and a restart "rocket" icon, the menu aesthetic is an obvious nod to the quirky, experimental SNES title Mario Paint. You'll even get flies swarming around your screen if you let the game idle for too long.
Building off of Mario Paint's eclectic sense of humor, you can also add pre-recorded sound and visual effects to your stage that would have never been used in a more traditional Mario game. Whether that's as simple as a friendly "ding" when you hit the correct box, or a "beating heart" sound when you want to add some tension to an ominous dungeon hallway, the effects use the same intuitive drag-and-drop system as the game's other items.

"The first time I discovered that not only could I make a giant, flame-spewing piranha plant, but I could also make it fly, I cackled with horrible glee at the possibilities."

Everything is incredibly easy to understand, implement, and experiment with, which makes creating levels, even for a complete novice, fun and effortless.
Unlike other games where the creation aspect is secondary to playing through a story or mission mode, crafting a level in Mario Maker is the focus. And also unlike with those games, creating a level is just as fun as playing one. Swapping between building and testing a stage is immediate and seamless, so it's easy to try new ideas. This lends the game a sense of discovery and adventure, even after you've been creating for hours.
While it rarely feels like there aren't enough tools create with, the longer you spend with Mario Maker, the more you might notice things you can't do. There's no way to add a mid-stage checkpoint. The dimensional limits of the levels are set in stone, so if you want to build something focused on a long, vertical freefall, rather than a horizontal jaunt, you're out of luck. Enemy AI is fixed--you can't create Goombas or Turtles that will try to actively seek out and attack Mario (though there are Mario-seeking Bullet Bills already included). And while you're allowed to place and use the game's creations in almost any way you like, the broader details, whether that's changing the color palette of an enemy or composing your own music, are outside your control. The restrictions doubtless keep the creation aspect more focused on interesting gameplay moments, but--especially with Mario Maker's other nods to Mario Paint--it's hard not to want just a little bit more freedom to expand past the bounds of a normal Mario game.
And, as both a positive and a negative, you don't have complete access to all of the game's creation tools when you first turn it on. You start off with a very limited palette of items and themes to experiment with, and more of the game's options unlock the longer you spend creating. That unlock time isn't measured in hours, however; it's measured in days. After playing with the tools you have available for about five minutes, you'll get an on-screen message saying the next unlock is queued up for delivery...the next day. Come back the next day, play for five more minutes with your new toys, and the next set of items will queue up for another next-day delivery.

It's a simple albeit tedious system to bypass: backing out of the game and changing your system's clock lets you hack your way to quicker access. But even though that week-long process of unlocking all the game's available items is a bit too long, it does serve a purpose: it makes sure you get out of the creator and play more levels.
Experimenting with the creation tools and playing around with the maker aspect is fun on its own, but the way you really learn to use those tools is through trying other peoples' creations. Just like reading makes you a better writer and listening to music makes you a better musician, playing through stages, both good and bad, lets you experience first-hand what works and doesn't work in a level. Mario Maker comes with a suite of pre-built stages, so there's something to try out even if you never go online and try user-created content.
But the user-created levels are where the real sparks of both genius and maddening difficulty come in. With a mix of hundreds of stages from around the world, I survived gauntlets of impossible-looking spinning fire traps; crossed massive gaps that required precise, last-second jumps; and solved levels that were more about using shells and other items in creative ways rather than reflexes and timing. In one particularly devious stage, I was forced to avoid mushrooms entirely, normally a highly sought-after power-up, in order to squeeze through tiny gaps at certain points in the level. The catch: the level was filled with hundreds of mushrooms.
The game makes it easy to find and sort user-created levels by popularity, difficulty, and creator. And the force that keeps driving you through these player-created levels, no matter how crazy, is knowing that someone had to beat them to upload them. They might seem hard. They might be put together with unbelievable unfairness. And maybe its creator only got through using luck and sheer force of will. But someone beat that level at least once, and that means you can too.
Super Mario Maker is a game of joyous creation and fun surprises. And that's without mentioning things like the music, a highlight in every Mario game. From the familiar and joyous themes of the main worlds to the altered riffs you get when tinkering around in Make mode, the soundtrack captures that same essence of wonder and surprise as the rest of the game. Even the in-game instruction manual is incredibly useful and entertaining; it's graphically animated, written with a great sense of humor, and, for no particular reason, throws in some thoughts about brussel sprouts.
The first time I discovered that not only could I make a giant, flame-spewing piranha plant, but I could also make it fly, I cackled with horrible glee at the possibilities. And for the first time in a creation-focused experience, I look forward to returning again and again for more than just the amazing levels I know other people will create. I want to keep making my own levels better. The game won't necessarily turn you into the next Shigeru Miyamoto, but you can almost feel a little bit of that magic rubbing off every time you upload a new creation.

Tearaway Unfolded Review

When I first played Tearaway back in 2013, I adamantly argued that Media Molecule’s delightful and imaginative platformer wouldn’t be possible without the PlayStation Vita. The Vita's medley of distinct inputs—from the touch screen to the front- and rear-facing cameras—allowed for genuine interaction between the player and the many pliable corners of the paper world. Tearaway Unfolded, the expanded PlayStation 4 adaptation that repurposes the puzzles and platforming for an entirely new control scheme proves me ever so wrong.
Although the Vita’s control scheme allows you to more easily and palpably reach out and touch the game, Tearaway Unfolded cleverly uses the DualShock 4’s touchpad, light bar, and motion sensor to establish and maintain a strong link between the in-game world, the on-screen protagonist, and the person holding the controller. Certain sequences feel completely new thanks to the PS4-exclusive mechanics, so even if you squeezed all the content out of the original game, Unfolded makes a strong argument for a return trip.

It doesn’t take long for the mechanical alterations to surface. Instead of using your finger to tear through the thin earth, Unfolded allows you to press the shoulder buttons to shine a bright light on the screen. This both renews the blotchy foliage and textures sapped of color and allows you to lull enemies off cliffs or into traps as you navigate your paper protagonist through danger. In lieu of peeling back paper and stickers using the Vita’s touchscreen, a simple swipe across the touchpad produces gusts of wind that blow away obstacles and send NPCs jolting into the air in bewilderment. You can still use your voice to add life to specific characters or draw your own creations that come alive in the world, but Unfolded is most interesting when it improvises, using the unique strengths of the controller to its advantage.
Once you get a handle on all these new motions and inputs, the puzzles and platforming begin to click as you find yourself mapping out your movements and chaining together abilities. These range from using the wind to throw enemies away from the bridge you’ve restored through your controller’s light, to popping your character off a bouncy pad with a press of the touchpad onto a platform you’ve correctly positioned with motion control. These complex interactions work well for the most part, but there are a few disadvantages to the less precise controller. Drawing with the touchpad isn’t nearly as intuitive as crafting creations on the Vita’s touchscreen, and it can be difficult to grasp the position of your finger on the controller relative to the work space on the screen itself. Even when I carefully drew snowflakes, stars, or crowns to help restore life to the world, the final result often resembled a sloppy Microsoft Paint project that even a kindergartener wouldn’t be proud of.

From any angle, Tearaway’s crinkled and folded environments are striking.

As a substitute to the touchpad, there’s a free companion app that allows you or a friend to use a phone or tablet as your sketch pad. You can also use the PlayStation camera to capture your immediate environment and slap that design (like you would a wallpaper) onto different parts of the world--adding a more personal flair to the characters and ground textures. The camera grabs your face in real time and frames it within a rift in the sky, further bringing you, the player, closer to the actual game world; it also has the added effect of making you appear as a sort of odd deity. These are smart and more effective ways to streamline the creation process, but what made Tearaway on the Vita so novel was the seamless integration of its hardware’s built-in features. It’s a marvel that Unfolded can succeed without the Vita’s many inputs, but the hurdles of added hardware means it's also lost some of the magic in the transition.
Where Unfolded does have a leg up on its portable predecessor is the presentation; the world is richer and crisper this time around, and everything pops just a little more. The new imagining is like walking through and interacting with your favorite storybook, and while the PS4’s horsepower gives the experience a radiant new finish, the artistic brilliance is what brings it all to life. It’s the ocean’s rolling paper waves, the textured and vivid checkpoint stickers, and the heaps of confetti popping out of delicately wrapped presents that make this delightful adventure an optical masterstroke. It’s gorgeous, original, and, maybe most importantly, thematically consistent. Every new mechanic, location, and story beat finds fresh ways to use paper, glue, and stickers to charm and surprise you, and somehow, it remains visually stimulating throughout.

Tearaway breaks the fourth wall on a regular basis.

The story itself is simple, but strong voice acting from the pair of narrators and clever writing go a long way toward keeping you invested in the journey. You play as either male messenger Iota or female messenger Atoi, who are envelopes with carefully folded arms and legs created to help deliver a very personal and important message to you, the player. Along the way, you meet bossy squirrels, aquatic scientists with lab coats, elk self-conscious of their coats, and a jumble of other silly creatures who help guide your personalized messenger across a handful of distinctive environments toward the tear between this world and ours. It’s endearing, charismatic, and liable to paint an ear-to-ear smile across your face—even when an influx of angry Scraps with villainous cackles and furrowed brows fights to thwart your efforts.
It is, however, long-winded. Time and time again, the narrators hint that you’re just one or two steps away from the end of your journey, only to throw you down another puzzle-laden path filled with new challenges. It’s a comical bait-and-switch to begin with, but the repeated occurrences of this stunt pushed me to hang my head and sulk through otherwise interesting late-game environments. It just goes on a bit too long, and while the actual ending sequence is as sweet and winsome as can be, its impact is lessened by the bloated finale.

From snowy mountains to dry sandy planes, the environments you explore are diverse and detailed.

Even if it takes a camera or a mobile device to fully come together, Tearaway Unfolded is a smart, slick reimagining of Media Molecule’s underappreciated gem. The innovative methods by which you can twist, turn, and bend the colorful paper world provide interesting new challenges to wrap your head around, and the already beautiful world has an even bigger allure on the PlayStation 4. It’s just plain fun, and while it might overstay its welcome, Tearaway Unfolded is a wonderful excuse to jump back into one of the most creatively rich platformers in recent memory.

Forza Motorsport 6 Review

The racing genre has reached that level of maturity where we've lost count of the number of times we’ve driven down the straightaways of Road America and the curves of the Bernese Alps. It speaks to the quality of some racing games that they draw us back to these old roads time and time again. Because it offers substantial new features that bolster the familiar, the arrival of Forza Motorsport 6 is yet another great reason to get back in the driver's seat.
This greatness shines in several areas of Forza 6's design, but nowhere more than Stories of Motorsport, the core mode of Forza 6’s goal-driven single player experience. Neatly organized in sets of five themes, it presents the game’s main racing disciplines in inventive ways that keep you entertained while you get accustomed to different tracks and car class combinations. Forza 6 effectively sells “the journey” of progressing through car classes and eras with appropriate rewards, both practical and superficial, along with a great sense of accomplishment.

You’re surrounded by Drivatars during the first ten seconds of a race. They look less friendly in motion.

Forza 6's Drivatars--A.I. racers that replicate your friends' driving habits--teach you to expect the unexpected. Any given Drivatar can veer off track, just like you might on a bad day. Likewise, a driver in first place can make a dumb move that gives you an undisputed lead for the rest of the race. There's a flipside: a racer could also flawlessly navigate a given track, holding the lead from the first lap all the way to the last, with you in their dust. In situations like this, I couldn’t help but chuckle in resignation when I finished in second place. I was impressed with this latest version of Drivatar for reminding me that there's always going to be unforeseen challenges, and new opportunities to learn from.
One of the reasons why Forza is generally considered a much more accessible racing simulator than say, Gran Turismo, is how it handles penalties. Like the parent who plays the ‘good cop’, Forza 6 doesn’t believe in punishment. Instead, it adds point rewards based on how much you want to challenge yourself, whether it’s turning off assists or increasing the difficulty of the A.I.. Even if you’ve been with the series since its inception but could never get used to turning off assists completely, Forza 6 doesn’t make you feel embarrassed for getting a little help with the controls. It also encourages you to become a smarter and more effective driver through the promise of greater rewards down the road.

This kind of accessibility and motivation pervades Forza's rich suite of multiplayer modes, too. It borrows much of its content from prior Forzas, with standard class-specific races as well as drag race and drifting competitions. Tag (Virus) remains my favorite multiplayer game. The thrill of escaping an infected driver is only matched by the tension of staying still in a hiding spot. While I can only describe my pre-release online play as limited at best, the matches I participated in were free of major performance hiccups. Placing first in your skill level in any multiplayer mode earns bragging rights, though there’s extra prestige in store for excelling in the new Leagues modes. These developer-curated matches operate on a schedule with a Spectator mode in tow. That means increased stakes and pressure from having your matches streamed to large audiences.
Forza 6 also introduces rainfall and night races to the series, and these not only look outstanding, but they offer new canvases for Forza's core gameplay. It is certainly gratifying to gain a level of muscle memory from mastering the grand prix circuit at Brands Hatch, but the addition of rain practically transforms it into a new track, and another rewarding pursuit. The new droplet-saturated cockpit view during a rainy race is even impressive enough that it may win over people who prefer to race with an exterior camera. Of course, these new weather effects introduce difficult driving conditions, such as hydroplaning, but when the view is this nice, you don't mind if your tires have a little less grip--you're just happy to be there. It's worth noting, however, that these conditions are static in their nature. The level of downpour does not vary from race to race, and the puddles in various tracks will be the same size, at the same location, in every outing. Other attractive touches complement Forza 6's realistic flourishes, from the dust specks that get on the camera, to pesky dashboard reflection during sunny races. As with every Forza before it (and Forza Horizon for that matter), you can’t be too hard on yourself for letting a scenic vista or a stunning sunset distract you from the task at hand.

As in real life, rain droplets on your windshield move away from the center based on your car’s speed.

One of Forza 6’s best new features is a modifier system that seems to be inspired by Halo's Skulls, with Mods that offer positive add-ons and reward-driven challenges. Whatever your set-up, Mods add flavor to the routine of gunning for first place. Closing the gap between the leader is tough enough, but activating a Mod that gives you bonus credits with every Perfect Turn is a tempting enough challenge to take you out of your comfort zone. Such multitasking sensations brings unexpected and appreciated depth to Forza 6. Rather than altering the core designs of Forza racing, these Mods complement it. It’s not unlike having another sub-menu of options you can toggle to further personalize your playthrough.
Starting with Forza Motorsport 4, the series' partnership with the Top Gear brand has only enhanced the series’ automotive-fetishization. Things are different this year, however; former Top Gear co-host, Jeremy Clarkson, is no longer associated with Top Gear or Forza. In Clarkson's absence, the familiar James May and Richard Hammond continue to bring their own witty personalities to the introductory sequences of myriad modes and race types. Just don't expect to hear them introduce every one of Forza 6's 460 cars in the virtual car showroom, Forzavista.

Photo-realistic lighting and reflections never get old.

Forza 6's flaws are few. The pre- and post-race visuals as well as the replays still run at less than 60 frames per second. While maxing out at 30 frames per seconds didn’t hurt the likes of Forza Horizon or Grid 2, going back and forth from the smoothness of a race to the less than fluid scenes at the pit in Forza 6 is off-putting. Then there are the low-resolution liveries, which look great when these designs are tearing up the track at 150 miles per hour, but look less than stellar in the showroom.
As merely the second installment for the Xbox One, Forza Motorsport 6 not only keeps up with the high bar set by Forza 5, it capitalizes on that foundation of quality. The Mod system and the weather effects are reasons enough for Forza 5 enthusiasts to seriously consider this sequel and the abundance of difficulty and assist options makes Forza 6 an immensely accessible driving simulation for newcomers.