pokemon sun and moon

Pokémon Sun and Moon Review

Posted by | Mobile, News, Reviews | No Comments

Available On: Nintendo 3DS

A lot is riding on Pokémon Sun and Moon. Pokémon popularity is at its highest point since its inception in the 90s, thanks to its 20th Anniversary and hit mobile game Pokémon GO. Yet we haven’t seen a new, non-remake Pokémon title in three years.

Pokémon Sun and Moon represent the largest shift in the series we’ve ever seen. These are still classic monster catching and battling games aimed at kids, but the numerous improvements and new island setting make Pokémon Sun and Moon a hugely successful entry in the popular franchise.

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Watch Dogs 2 Review

Posted by | PC, PlayStation 4, Reviews, Xbox One | No Comments

Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
We played on Xbox One

I came into Watch Dogs 2 with a skeptical mind because I’ve been burned by Ubisoft hype before. Fortunately, all of my concerns faded away quickly as I was whisked away to a virtual San Francisco to live the life of a hacker vigilante. I may be finished with the game, but it has definitely left its mark on me. Watch Dogs 2 is, unquestionably, one of the best games I have played in a very long time.

The Story

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Players take on the role of Marcus Holloway as he joins the “Hacktivist” collective known as Dedsec and embarks on a crusade against a corrupt company gathering citizen data and selling it to the highest bidder (among other nefarious acts).

His crusade comes in the form of a quest for followers as he cruises around town completing tasks to impress the people of the internet. Completing tasks nets Dedsec followers who download their app and give the hackers a portion of their phone’s processing power. Eventually these huge numbers will give them the CPU power to hack into their target’s systems and bring them down.

This is a simple premise that would fall flat if the missions were not interesting. Fortunately, they more than pass muster. The missions that you take on in just the first dozen hours ofrso of the game involve such tasks as faking the delivery of a rap song to a reasonable facsimile of the pharma-bro Martin Shkreli, infiltrating a close-enough version of the church of Scientology, and stealing “Kit” and driving it on a wild rampage to help film a re-cut version of a movie trailer. In the meantime you can snap selfies in front of famous locations, race go-karts, and even do timed deliveries a la Crazy Taxi.

I felt compelled to keep plugging away at story missions long into the night more than once. I wouldn’t say that this is going to raise the bar on open world storytelling, but I  was very invested in their mission very early on. The idea of companies gathering too much intel on their customers and selling it happens under our noses right now. So seeing a group of hackers battle against it felt great. I genuinely wanted to see how it would turn out for these guys.

San Francisco

It is impossible to discuss Watch Dogs 2 without addressing the setting. This game takes place in a well rendered representation of the city of San Francisco. It isn’t a one to one rebuilding of the city in virtual form, but it includes all of the major neighborhoods and most of the major landmarks that you wouldn’t expect to see in the game.

Driving around the expansive map was impressive, and the varied environments did a great job of keeping the game from getting repetitive. I hope that the Watch Dogs 2’s success in rendering San Francisco convinces other companies to set games there. It really is a great place to play.

The Gameplay

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Watch Dogs 2 is an excellent open world game. The cheap comparison would be to try and weigh the game point by point with Grand Theft Auto. But, those comparisons really aren’t fair. First, GTA is genre-defining so nothing can really keep up with it in comparison. Second, the player’s role in the games’ narrative (Criminal vs Vigalante hero) is so different between the two games that it makes them feel like wholly separate games to me.

The core mechanic in Watch Dogs is, as it always has been, hacking. Players use their phone for virtually everything they do. You can hack just about every electrical device that you see in order to overcome challenges.

The gameplay loop of hacking through different cameras to gain access to new areas returns from the first game. But, the list of hackable objects (and the things you can do with them) has increased this time around. My favorite is the ability to hack an electric panel to short out slightly so it draws a guards attention only for you to activate a second power to deliver a non lethal shock to knock them out. There is even an option to cause some people’s phones to detonate like grenades (They must have had Galaxy phones I guess).

The true highlight of the game, however, are Marcus’s  quad-copter drone and his remote controlled “car.” These devices can be let lose at the push of a button and give Marcus greater reach than he would on foot without exposing him to bullet fire. As the game progressed I found myself relying on those devices to do all of my dirty work. I barely entered most compounds unless I was required to but by then, all the hacking had been done. I thought they would have been a distraction, but they are amazing additions. I can’t wait for future Watch Dogs games to see what other drone-type devices they can think of.

Online Multiplayer

The online multiplayer is cleverly done and helps to simulate a world full of hacktivists – each with their own motives and goals. Sometimes those goals align neatly. This results in cooperative missions where players can team up to break into some intensely guarded compounds. Sometimes those goals don’t align. That results in another player entering your game as a bounty hunter tasked with eliminating you.

The multiplayer was largely broken at launch for the game, so I was unable to try it. But, its goal was to seamlessly integrate other players into your world on a shared map of San Francisco.

The Rating

Watch Dogs 2 is rated M for mature and for good reason. You have the option to play as a non-lethal hacker, but failing to do so leads to almost GTA level shooting sprees. The language in this game is also off-the-charts bad. I heard more F-words in some cut scenes than non-F-words.

The Takeaway

Buy with confidence. Watch Dogs 2 is one of the best games of the year.

civilization

Civilization VI Review

Posted by | PC, Reviews | No Comments

Available on PC

The Civilization series of games is one of the most beloved in the turn-based strategy genre. They’ve helped send their creator, Sid Meier, to almost god-like fame within the gaming industry. But all of this is for a very good reason. The latest installment of the series, Civilation VI is on caliber with the previous games, and it’s probably the best game yet.

The Basic Gameplay

If you’re not familiar with Civilization games, here’s the scoop. The game is about picking a civilization and building it and evolving it over time – from the prehistoric ages to the modern day and beyond. It’s played on a tiled board that represents city size and citizen movement. Though it sounds simple, these games are amazingly complex and have levels of depth not seen in other games. You start off by founding your first city. At the start, you’ll also find yourself with a “warrior” unit that can explore the world and fight enemies if necessary. Once your city has been founded, you can produce different types of groups, like builders, scouts, and other military units. The type of military units you can make depends on how far you’ve progressed in learning different things.

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That’s where the second aspect of the game comes in. There are multiple areas of study for you to pursue that can help advance your civilization in different ways. If you want to work on being a civilization focused on the power of its military, you can do that. Likewise you can focus on science or culture. None of these are mutually exclusive, though, so you can take your civilization in many different directions.

Finally, just like in the real world, you’re not the only civilization on the map. There will be foreign entities that you need to interact with. You can have peaceful deals where you share trade and open borders, or not-so-peaceful tactics, such as declaring all-out war. It can sometimes be difficult to read what the leaders of those civilizations are really thinking, so a large part of the strategy is knowing how to deal with each one individually.

civilization vi

So how does the game end? It doesn’t really have to if you don’t want it to. Adjusting a few options can let the game on indefinitely, but there are a number of win conditions. These include science, culture and military feats. If you’re able to complete them before any other player, then you win.

Due to the complexity of the gameplay, each game can take hours to complete. And I mean HOURS. You can sit down and start a game in the morning and might not even be finished by dinner time. I’ve done that quite a lot actually. It’s a game that’s really easy to get lost in. However, since it’s a turn-based game, you can save at any time, so that helps to alleviate that a bit.

The Difference Between Civilization VI and the Rest of the Series

Civilization VI is still a Civ game. The series has been great about incremental changes that take the gameplay in slightly different paths. In Civ VI, the difference comes in the expansion of your cities. Rather than the building being done for you by the game, you now have to build each segment of the city itself. If you want to build a library, you have to select a tile around your city to build it on. That means making the decision of where to place your buildings very strategic. You only have so many tiles to work with, so you have to prioritize what you build and where you build it. Your city expands a bit gradually without you needing to do anything, but you can also purchase additional tiles with gold.

I like this new challenge. I often found my cities filling up rather quickly and was faced with the decision to replace a resource tile, like a farm or mine, with one of the Wonders of the World that I wanted to build before someone else got a chance to.

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That’s the biggest change. The game also includes changes you would expect, like better graphics and more civilizations to choose from. There are also different leaders and sometimes their dialogue can be quite amusing. For example, Teddy Roosevelt will ask you to sample America’s goods like “stuffed bears.”

The Rating

Civilization VI is rated E10+ with descriptors for Drug Reference, Language, Mild Violence, and Suggestive Themes. A big part of the gameplay involves units attacking each other. While you can see the battles happening, the units themselves are fairly small and there’s no blood. The language and suggestive themes come from interactions with other world leaders, some of whom will call you names, and some of whom are dressed in a provocative way. Finally tobacco is one of the special resources you can farm.

The Takeaway

Civilization VI is the perfect next step in the series. It’s got a great amount of changes that improve the gameplay, while still feeling like the same game at its heart. This is a must-buy for existing Civ fans. If you’ve been wanting to dip your toe into the turn-based strategy genre, you can’t really find anything better. Just be prepared to tell yourself, “just one more turn” over and over and over.

 

 

gears of war 4

Gears of War 4 Review

Posted by | PC, Reviews, Xbox One | No Comments

Available on Xbox One, PC
We played on Xbox One

In general, shooters aren’t really my thing. Unless there’s something crazy about them, like being a plant or a zombie, they all seem to blend together. Gears of War 4 isn’t unique enough to make me rethink my entire feelings about the genre, but it has a good story and practically flawless gameplay. It should be considered a must-buy if the sci-fi shooter genre is your cup of tea.

In the game, you play as J.D. Fenix along with some friends.

In the game, you play as J.D. Fenix along with some friends.

The Story

Since this is the fourth entry in the franchise, the story for Gears of War 4 brings in a bit of the past and builds off that to make an interesting progression. After re-living some of the past events as a nameless soldier in a couple of prologue missions, you come into the crux of the story, which takes place 25 years after the events of the previous games. You play as J.D. Fenix, whose father is Marcus Fenix, the protagonist of previous games. J.D. and his friend have deserted the Coalition of Ordered Governments because they question some of the new policies of First Minister Jinn, namely the building of compounds with strict authoritarian rules over the people who live in them.

There are pockets of people known as outsiders who choose not to live in one of these compounds. But they’re strapped for resources that are kept under lock and key in the compounds. When J.D. helps one of these outsider villages, he’s launched into a larger plot that includes the involvement, of not only the compounds and First Minister Jinn, but also a hostile force of alien creatures.

The Gameplay

Gears of War 4, like its predecessors is a third-person shooter. You use a variety of weapons to shoot all sorts of enemies. And that’s basically it. You shoot. And then you shoot some more. And then you shoot even more. It’s honestly not my favorite type of gameplay, but it’s done so well and it’s so polished that it’s hard to find fault in it. The controls are intuitive and the on-screen prompts and heads-up display do a great job of giving you the information you need to know quickly and then letting you immediately try it out from within the gameplay.  Gears of War 4 also has an item called a fabricator, which can be used to craft weapons, which comes in handy when you run out of ammo for your equipped weapons.

gears of war 4

The campaign mode can be played cooperatively with two people either online or split-screen. There are also competitive online multiplayer modes and a cooperative mode where you face waves upon waves of enemies.

The Rating

Gears of War 4 is rated M with content descriptors for blood and gore, intense violence and strong language. When you shoot enemies, their deaths are very graphic with plenty of blood. Alien enemies will explode in a shower of blood and tissue that is quite gruesome. Except in cut scenes, you’re constantly in battle with little or no time to catch your breath.

The Takeaway

Gears of War 4 is an example of a game doing one thing and doing it extremely well. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a shooter that’s more polished than this one. The depth of the story was surprising to me and is actually more interesting than you’re standard sci-fi fare. Straight-up shooters aren’t really my thing, but I enjoyed playing the game. If you’re a big fan of shooters, then you’ll definitely want to give the game your attention.