Anthem Review

“Welcome to Anthem”

I was greeted with this message when I first opened my copy of Anthem. This little slip in the packaging invited me into a living, breathing world, only the starting point of a journey that would last years. I smiled as I put the disc in my PlayStation, thinking about BioWare’s promise of an evolving story in a mysterious world I could experience with my friends. Unfortunately, Anthem is just that: a promise, and it ultimately fails to live up to expectations or even deliver anything remotely above average. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely still fun to be had in Anthem, but what little fun there is is bogged down by bugs, loading screens, and completely baffling design decisions.

In Anthem, you play as a freelancer, a sort of mercenary that pilots a javelin, this game’s equivalent of an Iron Man suit. You and up to three friends can suit up and fly out into the world of Bastion, tackling quests, contracts, strongholds, and world events. Anthem is also a loot-based live service game like Destiny or The Division, so you and your squad will come across various new weapons and gear during your adventures.

Suiting Up

The javelins are easily the highlight of Anthem. Flying is awesome and it adds a lot of verticality to both exploration and combat. You are very rarely limited in where you can go in Anthem’s open world, and the world itself is gorgeous. Although it’s entirely comprised of the same jungle/ruins look, it’s lush and incredibly gorgeous. Whether its the top of a cliffside or the depths of a river, your javelin can get you there. Managing your heat bar makes flying more engaging than just holding forward too. Flying downward cools your thrusters, flying close to water slows the rate at which your thrusters heat up, and catching a waterfall or going underwater will completely cool your suit off. Movement is a lot of fun and it does a lot to break up the monotony of the experience.

Each of the four javelin types feels unique, and none of them feel useless. The ranger is your standard class with grenades and missiles. The interceptor is the most agile javelin and has an extra jump and dodge as well as a repeatable melee combo. The colossus is the tank, equipped with a shield and heavy armor, but it’s the slowest of the four. The storm can use devastating elemental attacks and can hover for an extended period of time. Each javelin class has its own strengths and weaknesses and each one is a joy to use.

The javelins all have their own unique ability sets that play off of one another in the game’s combo system. Some abilities in Anthem are designated either primers or detonators. A primer sets up an enemy with an elemental status like ice or fire, and a detonator deals a massive amount of damage to any primed enemy. For example, the colossus’s flamethrower can prime a large group of enemies, setting them ablaze, and then the storm can blast the area with lightning, resulting in a super effective team attack and an oh so satisfying “ka-chink” combo indicator. Seriously, the sound effect is the best part of combos.

Combo Breaker

Unfortunately, the combo system is never explained to the player. That goes for a lot of Anthem. I went my entire playthrough without knowing that each javelin type has a different perk for detonating a combo. Apparently the ranger’s detonators do a lot of damage to a single target, whereas the colossus’s detonators create an area of effect blast. The storm spreads elemental damage to nearby enemies and the interceptor gets something called aura, which I still don’t fully understand. Even simple gear customization is needlessly complex and frustrating. In my time with Anthem, I came across several javelin components that increased my blast damage by a certain percent. That’s great and all, but I don’t really know what blast damage is. I also can’t tell how exactly how much this blast damage is increased by, because Anthem doesn’t have a stats page. I can’t tell how much a 30% increase is because I don’t know how much I’m doing in the first place.

So much of Anthem’s gameplay systems are poorly explained or not touched on at all. The alliance system is especially confusing. It doles out coins to you and your friends at the end of every week depending on how much you contributed, but the contributions are vague and the results are even more so. You get alliance experience and feats at the end of every mission, but the game never tells you exactly what you got experience for or even what the medals it gives you mean. Even something as simple as daily and weekly challenges are unnecessarily obscure. The game tells you to check with Lucky Jak in Fort Tarsis (more on that later) to check your progress on your dailies, weeklies, and monthlies. You head over there and see one daily, weekly, and monthly, but in actuality you get multiple of each, they’re just buried in your challenge menu somewhere.

Growing Stale

The core gameplay loop is satisfying enough, though. Shooting is a mixed bag. Guns feel punchy and the sound design is good, but enemies are far too spongy and don’t react to damage at all, so the only indication I’m doing anything are the numbers that pop out of enemies. Shooting mixed with flying, however, is fun. Navigating around shielded enemies to access their weak points or dodging an ash titan’s flame rings were enough to keep me engaged, and there are some truly epic moments when combos go off while the game’s excellent score swells in the background. Sadly, Anthem frontloads all its enemy types, so the enemy variety doesn’t change much over the course of the game.

This doesn’t help much when the mission objectives are horribly uninspired as well. Every single one of Anthem’s missions involves standing in a ring while waves of enemies come at you or collecting orbs and bringing them to a point. Every single mission plays out the exact same way with the exact same enemies, and it got stale very quickly. Even the strongholds, Anthem’s more difficult side content, are just these same two objectives just over longer missions. Anthem does very little to keep the experience fresh, and that’s a shame. It shows some promise at the beginning with upside down waterfalls and flight challenges, but it quickly forgets about these prospects and goes back to standard fare gameplay. Anthem’s mission design feels like wasted potential. So much more could’ve been done with Shaper relics and the Anthem itself, but in practice they just amount to glorified enemy spawners.

Not only does the game get really repetitive really fast, the game also doesn’t work half the time. I experience not one, not two, but three game-breaking bugs that forced a restart. One time a cutscene faded to black and never faded back in, forcing me to close the game and start the mission over, completely ruining any sense of drama and frustrating me greatly. Another time my team was tasked with defending an area but the objective never spawned, so we had to wipe to get past the bug. It ultimately took three tries before the device finally appeared. During the final boss, one of my party members fell through the floor. One time the world was tinted red when I loaded in. Animations wouldn’t play on multiple occasions, people in Fort Tarsis would slide all over the place when I walked into the room, enemies wouldn’t take damage, damage wouldn’t register against me until I would get suddenly downed out of nowhere, my time with Anthem was not smooth in the slightest and the game clearly needed more time in the oven.

Loading times are another huge problem with Anthem. Loading screens are very, very frequent, and they last upwards of two minutes sometimes. Everything, and I mean everything, in this game needs to load. Let’s say I set out on a mission. Two minute load screen. I realize I have the wrong weapon equipped. Load screen back to Fort Tarsis. I walk over to the forge. Load screen. I equip a new weapon and leave the forge. Load screen. I get into my javelin and head back out. Load screen. All of that just to change weapons. In Destiny or The Division I can press start and have a new gun equipped in fifteen seconds without even leaving the field. These loading screens happen after cutscenes, when you enter a new area, and just about everywhere else, and they are a serious roadblock in enjoying the game and getting into a groove like you’d do with other looter shooters.

Gearing Up

Since Anthem is a loot based shooter, new weapons and armor should keep the experience dynamic and distinct. This is only true in theory, because Anthem’s loot is garbage. There are nine weapon types which provide some decent variety, but there are only three weapons within each class. So, throughout my time with Anthem’s main story, I only saw three assault rifles. Most of the weapons aren’t even distinct from one another visually or functionally. The hammerhead assault rifle and the defender assault rifle are essentially the same gun, and the warden is only different because it’s a burst weapon. Most of the weapons in the game only differ in their fire rates. They all look pretty much the same. In a game with loot at its core, its unacceptable to have such a small pool of weapons that feel so similar.

You also get javelin components and abilities as loot drops, but, like the weapons, these come from a very small pool as well. Each javelin only has ten abilities and ten components. To put that in perspective, level 30 you can equip six of the ten components at once. That’s more than half of the total components available. They don’t even do much, they just give you stat boosts and decreased cooldowns. So, at the end of every expedition, I found myself skipping past the loot screen because it was full of the same guns and parts I had already seen, just with slightly higher numbers. The loot in this game is wildly disappointing, and the super low drop rates for masterwork and legendary weapons do little to spice things up.

Unlike Destiny or The Division, armor pieces do not drop during regular gameplay, leaving the loot pool feeling shallower than these other titles. My javelin looked exactly the same during the final boss as it did when I was just starting out. There is very little in the way of customization here. There are only three armor sets per javelin in total, and one of them is exclusive to the deluxe edition of the game. There are more armor sets and materials available in the in-game shop, though, albeit at sky high prices.

Oil and Water

Anthem’s gameplay is almost always at odds with its story, and as a result, it feels like two totally different games are constantly battling one another to come out on top. The majority of the game’s story segments happen in Fort Tarsis, the game’s hub area. Fort Tarsis is strictly a single player location and you play in a first person perspective there, making it the complete opposite of the usual gameplay. Here, you’ll talk to important characters, accept missions, shop, and customize your javelin. It’s a strange choice to have the hub area be a solo experience in a game so focused on cooperative multiplayer. It led to awkward interactions between my party members, and exchanges like “are you still watching that cutscene” and “hold on I’m talking to someone” were far too frequent. There’s no time to get to know characters or engage in optional conversations with your friends waiting for you, so Anthem is better solo in this regard. However, if you try to play the missions solo, the game tells you Anthem is best experienced with a squad. There’s a very apparent dichotomy here, and it’s frustrating to have two experiences with completely different feelings and tones contrasting with one another so heavily.

Fort Tarsis itself isn’t a great hub area, either. The movement speed is too slow, navigation is a mess, and there’s little to no reason to explore. Compared to the original E3 reveal, Fort Tarsis is empty, lifeless, and eerily quiet. NPCs have scripted conversations that sound incredibly fake and forced, and if you take a second to stop and look at them you’ll easily notice just how robotic the performances and dialogue are. Named NPCs have optional conversations that provide exposition and worldbuilding, but the majority of the cast is so uninteresting that I found no reason to walk deeper into the Fort to find these people. You’re also presented with two dialogue choices every now and then during conversations, but they are completely pointless and hollow, amounting to nothing but “yes on the left” or “yes on the right.” Partaking in these optional conversations does reward you with faction loyalty points, but the rewards are so miniscule that it’s more effective to just earn them out in the field instead.

The Launch Bay is the game’s social hub, and you can choose to go here instead of Fort Tarsis after completing missions. It has everything the Fort has but without any of the people, so it’s ideal for endgame grinding. Everything is much closer together here and you don’t even have to leave your javelin. You won’t be coming here much until you’ve finished the game, though, because the story requires you to head back to the Fort frequently.

The story itself is a big letdown, especially for a BioWare game. Some characters are sort of likable. I found myself caring for a very small handful of characters, pretty much just my squad, Haluk, Faye, and Owen. While the squad is cool, the freelancer you play as is completely insufferable. They spout nothing but awful tough guy one-liners and have absolutely zero character development, making me wonder why the character was even voiced in the first place. The plot iself is misguided and rushed. Character motivations change on a dime, things happen and are quickly forgotten, and the villain is laughably generic and only gets maybe ten minutes of screen time. Right when the story starts to pick up, right when I start to get invested, the story ends. And when I say it ends, I mean it just kind of ends. So many plot threads are left open and the game even teases more things to come which will surely be addressed in post-launch story updates, not that that excuses the rushed ending of the main storyline. Anthem’s story very much feels like the first season of a TV show. Not everything is resolved and there are still very important plot points that need to be addressed, and they will be in the coming future. It’s just what we have now isn’t anything special to begin with.

There are also a few roadblocks in the story that force you to complete mundane checklists in order to progress. The tombs quest, which tasks you with such exciting jobs as opening fifteen chests, reviving five players, getting fifty melee kills, and so on, has been adjusted, now tracking the objectives from the start of the game, but by the time you reach the tombs quest you’ll still probably have some busywork to do. The second roadblock isn’t nearly as bad but you still may have to grind in the open world to get some of the materials necessary to progress.

When story segments are present during missions, the multiplayer aspect of Anthem can ruin them. If another player loads into a mission before you, you’ll miss the first dialogue because it’ll start playing when the first person loads in. If you another player is ahead of you, you’ll have a short amount of time to catch up or you’ll hit a loading screen and be teleported to them, missing any dialogue in the process. Same if you deviate from the mission area even slightly. These “return to mission area” and “return to party” messages happen way too often and are way too sensitive.. They also cover your javelin heat meter, so it’s nearly impossible to manage flying with that message on screen.

Strong Alone, Stronger Together

After completing Anthem’s main story, you’re given a few new challenges with some direction, but for the most part, you’re on your own. Welcome to Anthem’s endgame. You and your friends are now free to tackle the game’s most challenging content.

Anthem’s endgame consists of three main parts: strongholds, contracts, and freeplay. Strongholds are raid-like missions with multiple objectives (although they’re mostly the same defense and orb collection missions) and a boss at the end. There are only three available right now, one of which was available in the demo. Another is just the final story mission repeated. Anthem is in desperate need of more strongholds. They’re the game’s best content and they provide the greatest rewards, but having only three isn’t enough to keep things fresh while grinding.

Contracts are missions comprised of random objectives in the open world, usually defending a point or killing enemies. These are the weakest part of Anthem’s endgame. They aren’t handcrafted missions and it’s very apparent that they aren’t. They feel like filler but they can drop decent gear, so they’re good to do every now and then.

Freeplay is the bulk of Anthem’s endgame. You venture out into the open world and find chests or complete world events. There are a fair number of world events and the spawn rate is not too bad, so you won’t be starved for content out in the field. World bosses like ash titans can also spawn at random, giving you and your team an opportunity for good loot every now and then. The only problem with freeplay is navigation. Getting around is a pain, and you can’t place map markers, so trying to find a specific point is needlessly difficult. If you die during a world event, it’s not on your map, so it’s frustrating trying to find your way back.

Anthem’s endgame also has grindy checklist challenges called the Challenges of the Legionnaires. These involve repetitive busywork like completing 100 world events or 25 strongholds or 25 contracts. These are designed to be done in the background as you enjoy Anthem’s endgame experience, but the rewards are so small that it’s not even worth checking your progress.

Anthem hopes to inject longevity into its endgame through its grandmaster difficulties. Once you hit a certain gear score on your javelin, you can start grandmaster 1, and then once you get enough gear from that you can move up to grandmaster 2, and then grandmaster 3. Even though the difficulty increases, Anthem’s endgame still boils down to repeating the same small amount of content over and over for very little reward. There isn’t anything to work toward, no additional content like raids. It’s hard to see why anyone would want to continue playing with an endgame state as weak as this.


When you buy Anthem, you’re buying a ticket to ride. Just like with other live service games, Anthem will surely grow and improve over the course of its life, but the foundation BioWare has provided is supbar. Anthem’s story is bland and forgettable, the game is plagued with technical issues, the available loot does little to excite me, the endgame is downright anemic, and most importantly of all, Anthem is confused. BioWare couldn’t decide what it wanted this game to be, and unfortunately, that hurts both sides of what could’ve otherwise been an excellent game.

Final Score: 5/10

Far Cry New Dawn Review

Far Cry 5 ended on somewhat of a sour note. After spending hours adventuring across Hope County and battling the Eden’s Gate cult, nuclear bombs rained from the skies, and our protagonist was left in a bunker with the cult’s leader, Joseph Seed. Far Cry New Dawn is a direct continuation of Far Cry 5, bringing us from a largely forgettable story in modern-day Montana to a largely forgettable story in post-apocalyptic Montana.

Being a direct sequel, New Dawn feels like Far Cry 5 in a lot of ways. The game still takes place in Hope County, albeit only a small section of the original map, and there are a lot of pink flowers and colorful animals roaming around. Other than these minor aesthetic changes, New Dawn mostly has the same look and feel as its predecessor, which, after spending 20+ hours exploring Hope County last year, did little to engage me.

There are some changes to the game’s core design, but they feel half-baked and arbitrary. Many of Ubisoft’s major franchises have shifted their focus to RPG elements, and Far Cry has finally made the transition into RPG territory, although not to as great of an effect as some of its cousins like Assassin’s Creed. Weapons and enemies fall into one of four tiers now, and engaging enemies above your current weapon’s tier is doable, but it becomes an exercise in frustration due to how spongy they can feel. Tiers are not random, however, as the game’s campaign sends you further and further north, away from your base of operations, and enemies get stronger as you make your way through the world. This gives definitely gives the game a more linear feel, but you very quickly get access to high-tier weapons that make little work of any opposition, so it leaves the RPG elements feeling more like roadblocks than actual progression.

The perk system leaves a lot to be desired as well. Like Far Cry 5, you can complete basic challenges (get x amount of kills with this weapon, kill x amount of deer) to earn perk points. There are roughly 25 perks in total, and as I scrolled through them I thought to myself “I don’t want any of these”. Sadly, pretty much all of New Dawn’s perks suck. Being able to melee takedown high-tier enemies, swim faster, or carry more medkits are not enticing enough to actively work for perk points. Because the challenges are so simplistic, I ended up with a multitude of perk points just by playing, but that didn’t make the act of spending them any less boring. There are some more interesting perks later in the game, like a double jump and invisibility, but they come too late, leaving you with little time to get familiar with them and no incentive to incorporate them into your playstyle.

Luckily, New Dawn does have satisfying progression in other areas. The aforementioned base of operations, Prosperity, can be upgraded, providing you with access to better weapons, more health and ammunition, and other quality of life features like fast travel and maps. Prosperity is upgraded with the use of crafting materials that are obtained through Far Cry’s core gameplay loops. Liberating outposts, completing treasure hunts, and even hunting all grant materials, the most precious of which being ethanol, and the rewards make these activities feel more useful than in previous entries.

These side activities are the shining light of Far Cry New Dawn. Outposts function similarly to older Far Cry games. Sneaking in and disabling alarms or going in guns blazing with a co-op partner are both equally satisfying. New to this entry is the ability to scavenge an outpost, allowing you to retake it from enemy forces at a higher difficulty than before in order to earn more coveted ethanol. Each time you repeat an outpost, there is a change of a cosmetic drop, and it only takes a few tries to get a complete outfit. Some of these get pretty wacky, as per usual with Far Cry, and some personal favorites include the unicorn onesie and the knight armor.

Prepper Stashes from Far Cry 5 return in the form of Treasure Hunts, and they are easily the best content in New Dawn. They offer more cerebral challenges rather than combat and provide a nice change of pace from the game’s nonstop action. Solving a Treasure Hunt rewards you with a bevy of crafting materials and even a handful of Far Cry Coins, Ubisoft’s premium currency for this title. I had a blast trying to find my way into bunkers and hideouts full of rewards, and it’s a shame there are only 10 of these in total.

Hunting and fishing return as well, to little fanfare. Pelts can be traded in for crafting materials and meat is used in crafting recipes like bait and medkits. There is little restriction to how you go about hunting, and pretty much nothing will ruin the pelt save for hitting the animal with a car or burning it with a flamethrower. Coming off of Red Dead Redemption 2’s hunting system, it feels good to blast a deer point-blank with a shotgun, skin it without any animations, and put it into my endless video game backpack next to my four assault rifles and my bundle of crocodile skin. Unfortunately, there is little reason to go out and hunt. The time invested is not worth the small amount of materials you get in return, and you’ll have more than enough materials from outposts and exploration.

A new addition in Far Cry New Dawn are expeditions, side missions that take you to unique locales outside Hope County, like a theme park, a Splinter Cell themed plane crash, or even Alcatraz Island. Expeditions offer a welcome change of scenery and interesting, linear levels to play through, but they all have the same objective: get a package and extract as quickly as possible. This makes them feel samey, and the emphasis on speed doesn’t let you admire the new environments or explore at all. Expeditions do you net rare resources, though, so they’re worth doing if you’re short on supplies.

Speaking of exploration, the world is relatively bland. There is nothing of interest in New Dawn’s colorful wasteland except the things that are marked on your map. Because of this, exploration feels completely inorganic, and I found myself either fast travelling or flying to my objectives, ignoring everything else. The most interesting thing that’ll happen to you if you choose to walk or drive is an enemy encounter, and there is so little incentive to combat that I just drove past threats most of the time. Interesting locations or beautiful vistas would have been appreciated and could have done wonders to add variety to the game’s barren world.

I also wish New Dawn took better advantage of its setting. Despite being set in a zany, colorful post-apocalypse, everything is pretty much the same as before the bombs dropped. You still fight regular, humanoid enemies and the occasional animal, and, for the most part, you still use the same guns you did the first time you tore through Hope County. The guns and animals do look a little different, but fundamentally they’re the same thing, just with the odd splash of color here or duct tape there. The only new weapon is the saw launcher and it’s the first gun you’re handed. There is very little in the way of innovative new weapons or creative combat scenarios.

New Dawn’s story did little to grab me. I couldn’t stand the story in Far Cry 5, and New Dawn fares even worse. The plot and writing are absolutely insufferable, and after playing so many games with at least decent writing over the past year, this just feels inexcusable. There wasn’t a single likable character, not a single plot point resonated, and most of the optional dialogue was skipped. Even the game’s antagonists, twin sisters Mickey and Lou, leaders of the roving bandits The Highwaymen, are completely forgettable, which is strange for a Far Cry game. The plot takes itself way too seriously, provides no reason to care for its characters, and fails to deliver a satisfying payoff in any way, shape, or form. Performances are good, even great in some cases, but there’s nothing to back them up, and all the stakes feel wholly artificial.

Even the Guns For Hire, most of which return from 5, are flat out annoying. They do cater to widly different playstyles, Timber the dog spots enemies to help you with stealth, Horatio the boar soaks up damage to help you with a full-on assault, and Nana comes equipped with a sniper rifle to help you pick off targets from a distance, but I mainly used Timber not only because he’s a good boy, but also because the human companions kept talking to me. As much as I’d love to bring Hurk along for his RPG, he won’t shut up, and the same goes for every human companion. Their lines aren’t even just meh, they’re bad. All the dialogue in this game is awful, but luckily most of it can be skipped. It’s almost as if Ubisoft knows the writing is garbage because every quest giver has a voice line if you skip their dialogue, and some of these did make me crack a smile, mostly because of how ridiculous it is that there’s basically an “I don’t care” button.

Thankfully, Far Cry New Dawn doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s not nearly as long as the previous game, only clocking in at around 8-10 hours, and its more linear nature trims the fat and reduces the bloat that the Far Cry series is so well known for. The shooting is still impactful and fun and clearing outposts is as addicting as ever, especially with the new rewards, but the main campaign, both in its narrative and mission structure, is incredibly subpar and never comes close to realizing its full potential. There are a lot of good ideas in Far Cry New Dawn, but it does very little to capitalize on them in a unique and fulfilling way. It’s an enjoyable but wholly unremarkable and disappointing spin-off that could’ve been so much more.

Final Score: 6

Resident Evil 2 Review

After spending a weekend with Resident Evil 2, I can’t stop thinking about it. I still see the dark corridors of the Raccoon City Police Department when I close my eyes, I hear Mr X’s thudding footsteps when it gets too quiet, and I’m worrying about inventory management when I’m getting my things ready for class in the morning. Resident Evil 2 is chilling, Resident Evil 2 is oppressive, and Resident Evil 2 is fantastic.

It’s no secret that Resident Evil lost its way after the release of Resident Evil 4. After the mediocre Resident Evil 5 and blunders like Resident Evil 6 and Operation Raccoon City, it seemed like the franchise would never return to its survival horror roots. But then Capcom surprised everyone with the reveal of Resident Evil 7, which turned out to be a brilliant return to form for the series. After the buzz surrounding 7 died down, though, people started wondering “whatever happened to that remake of Resident Evil 2 they announced a couple years ago?”

Resident Evil 2 originally launched back in 1999 for the PlayStation, and now, two full decades and three whole PlayStations later, Resident Evil 2’s remake is out for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. The remake is virtually unrecognizable from the original. Fixed camera angles are ditched in favor of a third person perspective, the game is a lot darker, and it looks a whole lot better. The game is changed so drastically that it’s less of a remake like the first game got, but more of a complete reimagining. Despite all these changes, Resident Evil 2 still maintains the soul of the original. This is how a remake should be done. This is the standard by which all other remakes should be judged. Speaking in terms of modernizing a classic while still maintaining the feel of the original, Resident Evil 2 might just be the greatest remake of all time.

When you start Resident Evil 2 for the first time, you’ll be presented with a choice. Do you want to play as rookie cop Leon Kennedy or college student Claire Redfield? This choice is more significant than you might think. Like the original, the remake of Resident Evil 2 features an A scenario and a B scenario. Leon and Claire get split up very early in the story, and you’ll only get to see what happens to the character you chose. Once you finish the story with that character, you can start the B scenario, or “2nd run” as the remake calls it, and see what the other character was up to the whole time, complete with remixed areas, different enemy placements, and an overall more challenging playthrough. Completing the 2nd run lets you see the true ending and fight the real final boss. I started off with Leon, and once I rolled credits I started the 2nd run with Claire.

Leon is a rookie cop waiting to start his first day, but he hasn’t heard from the Raccoon City PD, so he heads to the station himself to see what’s going on. The voice acting isn’t spectacular. Leon sounds like an idiot most of the time, but it’s almost charming in a way. Claire’s performance is a bit better, but not by much. Her story, however, isn’t as interesting as Leon’s, but neither story is particularly riveting. Even though they aren’t written particularly well, I still found myself attached to both Leon and Claire because of the way they react to their surroundings. When a zombie gets back up or there’s a particularly gory corpse, Leon or Claire will let out an “oh shit” or “oh my god”. Most of the time their comments would mimic mine. One time I was running from a group of enemies only to enter a room filled with more, and Leon said “are you kidding me?” I felt for Leon. Our frustration was mutual. It’s little character moments like these that really make both protagonists feel human. My favorite moments with Leon and Claire weren’t in cutscenes, but tense gameplay situations where I knew we were feeling the exact same things.

And the gameplay is tense. Like classic Resident Evil games, ammo is scarce, and choosing when to fight is more important than how you fight. Zombies don’t die either, not unless you completely destroy the head, which takes a lot of bullets (which you don’t have) or a well-timed shotgun blast (which you should save for stronger enemies). Ideally you just want to shoot them enough until they fall down so you can get by. Ammo conservation and item management are key components of the game here, just like the original. The game is at its best when you can count your remaining bullets on one hand and you’re a long way from a safe room. The survival in survival horror is emphasized in Resident Evil 2. The horror doesn’t necessarily come from the monsters, but rather the harsh and oppressive atmosphere the game creates.

There’s still some traditional horror, though. For starters, the game is really dark. I’m talking pitch black here. Unless your flashlight is pointed directly at it, you can’t see it. It’s a clever way to recreate the limited visibility that came with fixed camera angles, and the lighting (or lack thereof) is incredibly atmospheric. You have to check the floor for any zombies laying around, and you have to check the walls and ceilings for lickers. There’s also an extremely detailed gore system. Jaws will come loose from faces, intestines will spill out of stomachs, and torsos will be ripped from legs. It’s disgustingly beautiful, and the incredibly detailed bodies strewn about RPD in the pale moonlight are mesmerizing in a messed up sort of way.

All of this is accompanied by excellent sound design. Music is seldom used in Resident Evil 2, save for the first time you enter a new area or a save room. Most of the time it’s eerily silent. You hear your footsteps echo through empty hallways, followed by distant groans of the undead. Rain and wind blowing in from broken windows create unsettling howls. The sounds in this game draw you into the nightmare, leaving you alone in deafening silence until you stumble across something, or something stumbles across you.

Sound also plays a big role in the game-wide cat and mouse game between you and Mr. X. While he only appeared in the B scenario in the original, Mr. X is present throughout the entirety of the remake. While you’re exploring RPD searching for items to solve puzzles, he’s exploring RPD searching for you. His footsteps are very loud and you can hear them rooms over. As you play Resident Evil 2, you’ll get more and more acquainted with the thud of his boots. Mr. X is relentless in chasing you, crashing through walls, lifting huge debris, and even following you into some areas you thought were safe like the RPD main hall. Some of my scariest moments with this game were with Mr. X, holding my breath and praying he walks by the room I’m hiding in, or trying to complete time sensitive actions knowing he’s just one room over.

Sometimes, though, Mr. X goes from frightening to frustrating very fast. Resident Evil 2 likes to throw him at you when you need to take time to be stationary and perform an action, like lifting a heavy object. At times like those, it felt less like I was evading a ruthless hunter and more like I was taking advantage of its somewhat limited AI to lure it away so I could move a bookshelf. Resident Evil 2 has a handful of moments that disrupt the pacing throughout both campaigns, but they’re small hiccups in the greater scheme of things.

After finishing the 2nd run, you’ll unlock the Fourth Survivor, an extra mode that tasks you with navigating through a challenging gauntlet of enemies with very limited resources. Once you clear Fourth Survivor (which is easier said than done), you’ll unlock the Tofu Survivor mode, which is essentially the same as Fourth Survivor except you play as Tofu and you only have a knife, so it’s much, much harder. There are also three bonus stories called Ghost Survivors releasing next month, so there’s plenty of Resident Evil 2 to go around

Resident Evil 2 is not simply an incredible remake of a classic horror game. It’s able to stand on its own and and adopt its own identity while still remaining true to the original. It takes the ideas first employed 20 years ago and molds them into a game that feels like it could’ve come out today. Resident Evil 2’s haunting atmosphere, stellar presentation, and wealth of content make it not only the best in the series, but one of the best survival horror games ever made.

Final Score: 9

Tetris Effect Review

The Tetris Effect is a phenomenon in which people who had been exposed to Tetris for a prolonged period of time began to see the game everywhere. They’d find themselves thinking about how things in the real world, like boxes on a store shelf, would fit together. They’d see falling tetrominoes when they’d close their eyes. They’d even have dreams about the game.

Tetsuya Mizuguchi is a Japanese game designer known for creating puzzle games with entrancing sounds and mesmerizing visuals. His two most notable titles are the PSP puzzler Lumines and psychedelic rail-shooter Rez. So what do you get when one of the greatest puzzle game designers of our time puts his own unique spin on the most legendary puzzle game ever made? You get the best version of Tetris I’ve ever played.

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Tetris Effect is, at its core, just Tetris. For the three of you who aren’t familiar with Tetris, blocks called tetrominoes fall down, and your job is to create lines of them so they disappear, because it’s game over if they reach the top of the screen.

What separates this version of the game from the hundreds of others are the sights and sounds. Tetris Effect is just as much a game as it is an audiovisual experience. While it may initially just seem like Tetris with a visualizer, you’ll quickly realize that Tetris Effect’s audio, graphics, and vibrations create a hypnotic experience that adds to an already addictive foundation. Bright colors, trippy visuals, catchy music, and a controller that vibrates to the beat really pull you into a truly unique space.

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Tetris Effect has two core components: Journey Mode and Effects Modes. Journey Mode is the game’s campaign, a “voyage of emotion and discovery” as the game calls it. Now, there was definitely some emotion and definitely some discovery in my time with Journey Mode, and I’m still trying to process it all. Each of the campaign’s 7 areas are comprised of 4 or 5 loosely connected Tetris boards with a simliar theme. There’s no plot, but it is quite an experience though. It lasts maybe 2 hours, but that’s not necessarily a big deal here. The gameplay is what matters, and there’s enough replayability here because it’s Tetris (and there’s also a lot more gameplay in the Effects Modes, more on that later). Journey Mode is less of a campaign and more of an interactive album, and a really good one at that. The music gets stuck in your head and makes you want to replay certain boards. The particle effect heavy visuals are stunning, especially in 4K HDR. This is like staring at a Windows visualizer from 2007 but on crack.

Journey Mode also lets you activate the zone, a new mechanic introduced with this entry of the series. By clearing lines and chaining combos, you fill up a zone meter, which can be activated by pressing R2. Upon doing so, time freezes and you can clear as many lines as you want, even more than the four required for a traditional Tetris. With the help of the zone and some smart planning, you can clear 16+ lines, netting you a Decahextris and a huge score bonus. Sadly, zone is only available in Journey Mode.

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The Effects Modes are where the meat of Tetris Effect’s content really is. This is where you’ll spend most of your time with the game, playing with various game modes and modifiers and earning unlocks through the game’s pretty basic progression system. You have your classic modes like marathon, but there are a lot of new fun and different game types to try out like Purify, a mode in which you have to clear lines to combat an infection. The main gimmick of the Effects Modes is that there are game types to match one of four moods: Adventurous, Classic, Relax, and Focus. Each mood offers a drastically different pace with objectives to match. Focus modes are timed and lightning quick, while chill modes go on for a while and let you soak in the atmosphere. There are also weekly events where players around the globe compete in one of the four moods and work together to fill a ridiculously large global point quota. Each mood provides enough variety for even the longest Tetris Effect play sessions to not get stale.

It’s hard to overstate just how impactful Tetris Effect’s visuals really are. They’re absolutely gorgeous and they look even better in motion. While they look fantastic on a 2D screen, they look phenomenal in VR. Yes, Tetris Effect features PSVR functionality. The full game is playable wearing the headset, and it adds so much to the experience. The PSVR headset in this case acts as headphones for your eyes. That, in combination with the actual headphones that you wear on your ears, completely sucks you into the action, and it’s a hallucinogenic trip that should be experienced by everyone.

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There’s just something about Tetris Effect that has gripped me and refuses to let go. It takes what is essentially a perfect game that could already be played for hours on end and somehow makes it even better. It’s a love letter to a game so many of us cherish, and it compromises so little in terms of gameplay and presentation. It marries both of these so effectively, so elegantly that it’s almost impossible to put down once you start playing. It’s a masterpiece of the puzzle genre, and you should definitely not skip it because it’s “just Tetris”. It’s a celebration of Tetris. It’s fun, it’s addicting, and, both visually and mechanically, it’s captivatingly beautiful.

Final Score: 10

 

The Best Detective Game I’ve Ever Played

I love detective games. From LA Noire to the Sherlock Holmes games to Her Story, anytime there’s a digital mystery to be solved, you’d better believe I’ll be the first one to pick up a controller and start looking for clues. Return of the Obra Dinn is the follow up to 2013 indie darling Papers, Please, and it’s captivating, time-bending story and puzzles easily make it the most compelling mystery I’ve ever tried my hand at solving.

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The first thing most people notice about Return of the Obra Dinn is its striking art direction. Solo developer Lucas Pope wanted to employ a 1-bit graphical style similar to old Macintosh computers, and the result is a game that looks unlike anything else on the market right now, favoring a unique visual flair over photorealism and millions of polygons. Although Return of the Obra Dinn has a simple approach to graphical fidelity, it is not a game with lighthearted subject matter in the slightest. People get shot, people get blown up, people get ripped apart. There’s a lot of death and violence in Return of the Obra Dinn, and it’s incredibly detailed for a game that looks like this.

Death plays a key role in this game’s narrative. A ship by the name of Obra Dinn arrives back at port with it’s all 60 of its passengers and crew either dead or missing. You play as an investigator who has been tasked with finding out what happened aboard the Obra Dinn. You bring a log with you, filled with the names, nationalities, and professions of everyone aboard, a map of the ship’s layout, and sketches of the crew. As you step onto the ship you’ll find that there’s not a lot of corpses and a whole lot of “what do I do?” That’s where Return of the Obra Dinn’s central mechanic comes into play: the Memento Mortem.

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Memento Mortem is the fancy name for the stopwatch that you’re given to aid you in uncovering the story of the Obra Dinn. This watch allows you to go up to any body and relive its last moments. You can hear the dialogue and sounds leading up to death, but all you get to see is the actual moment of death. After viewing one person’s final moments, the watch will reveal a new body somewhere else on the ship. This, in combination with the log, will help you ultimately identify all 60 passengers of the Obra Dinn and determine their fates. After a simple tutorial explaining how the watch works, you’re left to your devices. Unlike most other detective games, there is no hand holding. There are no tooltips. You get no help. And this is why Return of the Obra Dinn excels.

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Finding out what happened aboard the Obra Dinn initially seems like gargantuan task. You have the names of 60 people and sketches of the crew, but names aren’t tied to sketches, and nobody’s alive to tell you who’s who. To make things worse, not only do you have to identify each person, but also what and who killed each person, along with all the details. For example, if someone was shot, be prepared to say with what, whether it be a gun, cannon, or some other weapon. To complicate things even further, Return of the Obra Dinn’s story is told out of order, and people rarely address each other by name in the watch flashbacks. Some scenes also feature multiple people having simultaneous conversations, so unless you’ve matched a voice to a face, you’ll have to dig deeper to find out who’s saying what. In essence, Return of the Obra Dinn is one huge logic puzzle, and a highly entertaining one at that.

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While mechanically simple, Return of the Obra Dinn has puzzles than continue to surprise me with their depth. One time I identified someone based off their accent. Another time I had to trace bullet trails to find out which one dealt the killing blow. One flashback put me behind a wall with small windows, obscuring the action and forcing me to get creative with my viewing angles. The less you know about Return of the Obra Dinn going in, the better. You want to take your time with this game and go in as blind as possible.

Return of the Obra Dinn starts out simple, almost deceptively so. Then it hits you with a shocking moment that turns everything you thought you knew about the ship on its head. Then it does it again. And again. Return of the Obra Dinn is fantastic at subverting expectations and throwing a wrench into things when you’re were certain you had it all figured out. It forces you to think, and it’s incredibly satisfying to correctly identify a crew member. It’s a game full of cross referencing and eureka moments, but most importantly of all: it makes me feel like a real detective.

Final Score: 9.5

Return of the Obra Dinn is available now on Steam for Windows and Mac.