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.

 

 

Red Dead Redemption 2 Review

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game about details. You have to recover your hat if you lose it in a fight, you have to eat to make sure you’re strong enough to continue your journey, you bond with your horse as you ride it. All of these touches, along with a multitude of others, combine to create one of the most immersive and grounded open world experiences in any video game ever.

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Red Dead Redemption 2 is Rockstar’s first foray into the current generation of consoles. While Grand Theft Auto V is available on and touched up significantly for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it still is a seventh generation game at it’s core. Red Dead Redemption 2, on the other hand, utilizes the entirety of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One’s power, looking beautiful on the base systems, gorgeous on PlayStation 4 Pro, and especially stunning on Xbox One X. Environments are sprawling and draw distances are expansive. Character models, lip syncing, and animation are all top-notch, as one would expect from a Rockstar production. Red Dead Redemption 2 is the prettiest game I have ever laid my eyes on bar none, and I found myself stopping several times as I rode up to a cliff or along certain trails, taking in the jaw-dropping vistas and magnificent sights.

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Red Dead Redemption 2 takes us back to 1899, a full 12 years before the events of the original Red Dead Redemption. While Red Dead Redemption had players controlling John Marston in his adventure to hunt down his former gang members, Red Dead Redemption 2 gives players control of Arthur Morgan, right hand man to Dutch Van Der Linde, leader of the gang Marston used to run with. Being set over a decade prior to the first game, Red Dead Redemption 2 offers a very different snapshot of the west. In the first game, the wild west was basically eradicated. The few gangs and gunslingers remaining were hunted by an ever-growing and seemingly omniscient government. Red Dead Redemption 2 shows us the beginning of the end, the time when civilization had just begun to overtake the west, and this is where the story begins.

After a botched robbery in the town of Blackwater, the gang is forced eastward into snowy mountains, harsh conditions which they are ill prepared for. Red Dead Redemption 2’s opening chapter is slow and extremely linear, but deliberately so. Unlike GTA V’s opening linear segment, which lasted about 20 minutes, Red Dead Redemption 2’s first chapter takes around 2 hours to complete. Asking players to sit through the average runtime of a movie for an introduction is usually reserved for JRPGs and the like, but Red Dead Redemption 2’s opening hours are filled with interesting dialogue, character building, and tutorials for the game’s complex simulation mechanics.

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The opening act also introduces you to the game’s method of storytelling. While the game features some of the most well-acted and well-produced custscenes I’ve ever seen, the majority of the exposition and character building happens through the dialogue system. Holding L2 lets you lock onto any NPC and have a conversation with them. While not as deep as something like Mass Effect in terms of what can be said (you’re usually only offered a “greet” and “antagonize” option), you can actually carry out full conversations with just about anyone by pressing any of the dialogue options more than once. Voice lines usually don’t repeat, and the conversations flow surprisingly well, although you can start to see the seams in the system after a couple conversations. Long horse rides are a staple in Red Dead Redemption 2, but talking to your fellow gang members helps to keep things interesting. These are scripted for the most part, but after the essentials are covered, the dialogue system can be used to ask more personal questions about the gang. There’s a lot of talking in Red Dead Redemption 2, but the writing and production values make it just as entertaining as the shooting.

The game’s pace is slow. That’s not to say nothing happens (some of the most critical plot points and reveals happen during down time), but you’ll spend considerably less time shooting a gun in Red Dead Redemption 2 than say, Grand Theft Auto V, or even the first Red Dead Redemption. If you can’t make it through the first chapter, then you most likely won’t make it through the rest of the game. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a slow burn, but it pays off in incredibly rewarding gameplay segments and story beats. Luckily, the game opens up in Chapter 2 and even more so as the story progresses, and this is where Red Dead Redemption 2 shines.

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Red Dead Redemption 2’s open world is the most fully realized and detailed map I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring. While not exactly dense, the game’s world remains interesting throughout the story’s 65 or so hours. You spend a lot of time riding in Red Dead Redemption 2. A lot of the map is empty fields and plains, and towns are normally a couple minutes apart by horseback. To keep things interesting, Red Dead Redemption 2 features random encounters, or “chance encounters” as the game calls them. These range from the basic “I need a ride back to town” and “I’m going to pretend being hurt so I can steal your horse” quests to more intriguing ones I won’t spoil. Surprisingly, in my dozens of hours spent with Red Dead Redemption 2, I didn’t encounter a single repeat. Not a single one. Well, except for one.

Early in my adventure, I had helped a man who had been bitten by a poisonous snake. I gave him some medicine and was on my way. Two chapters later, I was riding along a path when I heard a man cry for help from some nearby bushes. He had been bitten by a snake, and it was the same man from before, same character model, same voice, same everything. “Aha,” I thought to myself, “the game finally cracked. I finally got a repeat.” I was about to dismount my horse and give the man medicine like I had before, expecting the exact same scene to play out just as it did before. Much to my surprise, the dialogue was a little different than I was expecting.

“That the snake bite feller? Again?”

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That’s how unique and varied Red Dead Redemption 2’s chance encounters are. I didn’t get a single repeat during my entire playthrough, and the one time I thought I did, it was intentional. Not only that, I remembered exactly who I had saved from the snake bite the first time. Why? Because Red Dead Redemption 2’s random encounters rarely end after you and the stranger part ways. When I saved that man from the first snake bite, I found him hours later, sitting outside the gun store of a local town, telling the story of the man who saved him to a friend. When I walked by, he flagged me down and told me to choose anything I wanted from the gun store as thanks. I went in and chose a new rifle. There was unique dialogue with the gunsmith about the snake bite victim, too. I always felt compelled to stop for everyone while traversing Red Dead Redemption 2’s massive map. I never knew if I was getting myself involved in just a simple act of kindness or a longer narrative that would play out as I progressed through the story. The rewards are worthwhile, too. You don’t just get invisible points added to your honor meter like you would in other games. You usually get some money, a food item, or even a freebie from a local shop, things that have a tangible effect on gameplay and are of some use to the player.

While chance encounters are memorable in themselves, the real shining side content of Red Dead Redemption 2 are the Stranger storylines. Returning from the first game, Strangers are unique side characters with stories that develop as you progress through the game’s main narrative. Usually episodic in nature, these missions will have Arthur running into colorful characters from around the game’s world again and again. They range from hilariously funny to surprisingly somber, with Arthur encountering a broad spectrum of people from eccentric French artists to lonely Civil War veterans. None of the Stranger missions felt like a waste of time, and, like the chance encounters, they offer tempting rewards, some of them even being unique to their quest lines.

Whether you’re exploring the small livestock town of Valentine or roaming the bustling, smoggy streets of Saint Denis, you’ll have to remember to keep Arthur fed and groomed. Food plays a key role in Red Dead Redemption 2 thanks to the way the game handles health and stamina. There are traditional bars to manage these things, but the game introduces a core system in which you have to consume certain snacks or drinks to increase the rate your bars increase, otherwise they won’t regenerate quickly, or even at all. Luckily, this isn’t obtrusive. The cores don’t drain that fast at all, and when they do, you can remedy it in a matter of seconds. Grooming is another matter entirely. Arthur needs to stay clean or people will react poorly to him and even try to avoid him outright. At one point I went a little longer than normal without bathing, and one of my gang members took me aside when I came back to camp and made me wash myself. All of this applies to your horse as well. It needs to be fed and brushed to maintain peak performance.

Speaking of horses, there are a lot of them in Red Dead Redemption 2. The game features 19 breeds of horse, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Because the frontier can be lonely at times, you’ll develop a strong bond with your horse. Your horse is unique. You name it, you have to spend time riding it to increase your bond level which unlocks new tricks and techniques and makes it so it won’t run off on you so often, and if it dies, it’s gone. That’s right, Red Dead Redemption 2 features horse permadeath, and losing a mount you’ve spent the majority of the game with is gut wrenching, especially if you’ve put a lot of money into it. The horse customization is extensive, allowing you to personalize everything about your equestrian companion from mane length and color to saddlebags to blankets.

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Customization options for Arthur are immense, too. There are preset outfits like the first game, but you can also mix and match individual clothing pieces to create your own personal brand of cowboy couture. All 50+ of Red Dead Redemption 2’s weapons can be fully customized down to every minute detail. There are several metals to choose from, from silver, to gold, to blue or black iron, that can be applied to any individual part of any gun, from the barrel, to the trigger, to the hammer. There are also a handful of different engraving patterns with a range of colored metals to fill them in with, along with leather wrappings for rifles and repeaters. Everything down to the grain of the wood on your shotgun can be customized in Red Dead Redemption 2, and it’s very easy to make a stock weapon you just purchased from the local gunsmith into your own unique tool of destruction to carry with you on your travels.

Shooting these guns, however, is where Red Dead Redemption 2 falls a little short. The gunplay is lifted directly from Rockstar’s previous works, featuring a heavy lock-on auto aim system. Free aiming is clunky and slow, and hitting targets without utilizing the extremely generous targeting assistance is incredibly difficult, especially on horseback. Arthur also controls a bit awkwardly, just like previous Rockstar protagonists. Navigating tight corridors and indoor spaces can be a mess with Arthur’s wide turn radius and general unresponsiveness. Over time, I grew more comfortable with how the game wanted me to play it and the navigation issues lessened in severity, but the clunky shooting problem did not go away, and it lead to some frustrating moments.

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Red Dead Redemption 2’s main story is a gripping tale of loyalty, betrayal, and change. Over its 6 chapters and 2 part epilogue, Arthur and the gang will undertake high stakes heists, daring escapes, tense shootouts, and even a standoff or two. The game’s production value elevates these missions to the next level. The animations are varied and have weight to them, guns sound loud and imposing, and there’s plenty of smoking barrels and exploding oil lamps. There’s also a slow motion kill camera ala Max Payne on some kills. The large scale gunfights in this game are visceral and are some of the best set pieces I’ve ever seen in a game thanks to masterful cinematography and sound design alongside a perfect balance of storytelling and interactivity. Rockstar knows exactly when to take control away from the player and just when to give it back to them for maximum effect.

The audio design is equally impressive. Bullets ricochet with a satisfying twang. You can feel every bullet slamming into a revolver’s cylinder. Floorboards creak and spurs jingle. Headphones are definitely a must. The score is varied and effective. Instrumental tracks kick in at just the right time and get you pumped up for a gunfight. Music is used sparingly enough to be impactful when it’s played, and each track is memorable. When the strings swell up and a guitar starts to play, you know things are about to go down.

Part of why Red Dead Redemption 2’s story hits as hard as it does is due to how likable the cast is. Each member of Dutch’s gang is fleshed out through main story missions and side activities alike. The gang is a family, and the game doesn’t let you forget that. Conversations, arguments, fights, poker games, fishing trips, all of these and more happen as you walk through the game’s various camps, and each gang member has unique dialogue depending on who’s present and where you are in the story. It’s cool sitting down with John, Bill, and Lenny to play some poker and then having John give his thoughts on a job the gang pulled a few missions earlier. The gang celebrates after big successes and the parties are some of my favorites parts of the game. I found myself sitting alongside my crew huddled around the fire, listening to Javier strum his guitar and sing while other groups of people have their own conversations nearby.

Details like these are what make Red Dead Redemption 2 stand out among other open world titles. Rockstar’s typical level of polish is on display here along with substantial improvements across the board. Weapons get rusty and dirty over time and you have to clean them or their stats will suffer. Different gang members stand guard and welcome you back to camp. I bought a sniper rifle from a gun store and returned hours later. The clerk asked how my new rifle was treating me. Little things like these make the world feel so alive, like everything is truly dynamic. Everything about Red Dead Redemption 2 is meticulously crafted. The shop catalogs are filled with advertisements and text for each product. If you don’t want to shop from a catalog, you can take things right off the shelf and buy them that way. The attention to detail here is pretty much unmatched.

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Red Dead Redemption 2’s plot is easily the best story Rockstar has told to date. The writing is consistent and full of twists and turns. While the original Red Dead Redemption isn’t required to understand the sequel, clever callbacks and foreshadowing make knowledge of the original strongly recommended. Some of the plot’s strongest moments and best lines will go right over your head if you haven’t played the first game. Regardless, it’s still a gripping tale that will easily hold your attention until the credits roll. The performances are fantastic, and watching Dutch’s gradual descent from a charismatic leader to the cold-blooded killer Marston hunts down 12 years later is a pleasure thanks to an incredibly nuanced performance. Even more intriguing was Arthur. Watching him slowly come to grips with the inevitability of change and facing the fact that the time of outlaws is nearly over is highlighted by poignant writing and phenomenal acting. The entire gang is interesting, but over the course of the game, Arthur, Dutch, and the brewing conflict between the two absolutely stole the show.

Overall, Red Dead Redemption 2 is simply massive. After completing the epilogue, there is still a significant chunk of the map left unexplored. I still have fish to catch, hideouts to clear, and strangers to talk to. There is so much in Red Dead Redemption 2, and so little compromise. A fantastic story, gargantuan world, and compelling side content make Red Dead Redemption 2 one of the best games in recent years. Many people consider the original Red Dead Redemption to be one of the defining games of the last generation. I think it’s safe to say many will look back at Red Dead Redemption 2 in the same way.

Final Score: 9.5

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Review

Call of Duty has been struggling to reach the highs of its heyday for years. Call of Duty used to be an event. Every year fans were treated with an action-packed blockbuster campaign, an addictive competitive multiplayer mode, and some type of cooperative offering (usually zombies). This year’s entry forgoes the single-player aspect to double down on its multiplayer, and the change more than paid off, resulting a robust and varied suite of compelling game modes, each with their own progression systems and unlocks.

Multiplayer

Multiplayer is Call of Duty’s bread and butter. Fast-paced twitch shooting has been a staple of the franchise since its conception, and Black Ops 4 is no different.

However, Black Ops 4 does make some small but welcome changes to the formula. Objective based game modes are now 5v5 instead of the usual 6v6, but some modes like team deathmatch still support 6v6. Healing is a manual action this time around, requiring a button press rather than just waiting behind cover. Players have more health and the time to kill is a bit longer than normal. While these tweaks aren’t anything major, they add up to create a more strategic, tactical experience than traditional brain dead run and gun shooting.

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Similar to Black Ops III, each player is required to choose a Specialist, a preset character with unique abilities. While these characters were present in the previous entry, there’s much more of a focus on them this time around. There can only be one of each per team, and some of the new Specialists have support abilities like healing and respawn stations, so a team’s composition really matters. Each one feels unique and suited to a specific play style. Want to provide extra points for your team and play for scorestreaks? Choose Crash. Want to hunker down somewhere and hold down a part of the map? Choose Torque. The Specialists add a layer of depth to the game while not overcomplicating things.

The characters’ backstories are fleshed out in “Specialist Ops”, which are nothing more than glorified tutorial missions with short cutscenes attached to them. What could’ve been fairly interesting and a good introduction to the game’s multiplayer turned out to be underwhelming and tedious.

Black Ops 4 has 14 maps, 4 of which are remakes of classic Black Ops maps. The other 10 are serviceable with some standouts. Icebreaker has players engaging in medium to long distance firefights with little cover, but the wrecked ship in the middle of the map offers tight, close range battles and flanking routes. Morocco has a surprising amount of verticality, with most routes usually having a higher path nearby. Hacienda funnels players through hallways while still allowing them to rotate around the house to flank, or through the open courtyard if they’re feeling brave. Each map has its own identity, and they’re all fun to play on.

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Heist and Control are the two new modes introduced. Heist is very obviously inspired by Counter Strike. You start with a pistol and have to earn money by either eliminating players or completing the objective. There are no respawns, and you buy weapons and gear at the start of each round. Heist is fun, but forgettable. Control, on the other hand, is a welcome addition to the franchise and quickly became one of my favorite modes. One team attacks two control points while the other defends. Each team only has 30 lives, though, and once those are gone, there are no respawns. Both teams go at it until one reaches 3 points. Control requires strategy and communication, but it’s still casual enough to fit in nicely with other Call of Duty game types. It’s all fun and games until it’s 5v5 with no respawns.

Speaking of spawns, spawning is incredibly broken. People will spawn right behind you. It’s infuriating. I’ve seen plays of the game where people have gotten a kill, died, respawned, and then immediately got two more kills, all within seconds. Treyarch is working to improve the spawns, but right now, it’s a mess.

Other than that, Black Ops 4’s multiplayer feels like classic Call of Duty with some modern twists. I hit first prestige over the launch weekend, and I’m looking forward to returning. Map variety, gun selection, and varied game modes make for a refreshing and fun experience.

Zombies

Zombies is the second pillar of Black Ops 4’s multiplayer suite. On a fundamental level, Zombies is the same as it was back in World at War. Four players work together to survive endless waves of undead attackers, purchasing new weapons, opening doors, and uncovering secrets as they do. Black Ops 4’s Zombies mode is absolutely packed with content. There are three maps at launch (four if you have the season pass), and each offers a different experience than the other. IX takes place in an ancient Roman gladiator arena. Voyage of Despair places you and your team on the Titanic. Blood of the Dead is a reimagining of the classic Black Ops II map “Mob of the Dead”.

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There is a huge focus on customization this time around. You can choose Classic mode, which lets you play just like the good old days, Rush mode, a much faster paced alternative, or create your own entirely custom game mode. The amount of freedom given to you in creating custom games is immense. There are also four difficulty levels to choose from. No matter your skill level or what you want out of Zombies, Treyarch has made sure you’ll be happy.

Zombies also features a robust create-a-class system allowing for specialization and different playstyles. You can choose four of the game’s 30+ elixirs, which are temporary perks that function similarly to Black Ops III’s Gobblegum. You can also choose a special weapon similar to a Specialist’s ultimate ability (the sword was a favorite of my group). Another aspect the game lets you customize are the perks that appear on the map. Rather than having every perk on the map at a specific location, there are now four perk machines, but you can choose which perk to put in each. All of these systems can be a little overwhelming at first, but there is a tutorial to help ease new players into the Zombies experience.

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Black Ops 4 Zombies is a nice change of pace from its Multiplayer. It’s tense, it’s rewarding, and it’s just a good time overall. Naturally it’s better with friends, but there are always bots if you prefer the solo experience (the bots in this game are more skilled than some human players I know). Zombies is as good as it’s ever been here, and there’s a lot for players to uncover.

Blackout

This is definitely the most interesting part of Black Ops 4. The series got rid of a campaign, replacing it with battle royale as the game’s third pillar, and man was it worth it.

Blackout is phenomenal.

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You all know how it goes: 100 players drop onto the map and the last person or team standing is victorious. Blackout doesn’t exactly bend the rules of battle royale in any spectacular ways, but it’s incredibly well made. It runs well and looks good. The gunplay is tight and satisfying, as one would expect from a Call of Duty title. It just feels good to play.

The map is made up of classic Black Ops maps, but reworked to fit into a battle royale map. Nuketown is now its own island, aptly named “Nuketown Island”. Other fan favorites like Array and Firing Range make appearances as well. Zombies maps are included, too, but what good would Zombies maps be without, well, Zombies? Zombies are present in Blackout, and they are definitely a threat. They take more hits to go down than normal, and in a game like this where sound is key, engaging them can and will give away your position. If you do choose to brave the undead, you’ll be rewarded with the mystery box, which serves as a rare loot cache in Blackout.

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Everything about Blackout just feels right. The movement is extremely fluid. Sliding and vaulting feel natural and useful. Vehicles handle wonderfully. ATVs are quick and nimble, while trucks are heavier but offer more protection. Perks provide helpful gameplay benefits like quieter footsteps or faster movement. You have things to work toward because the game gives you objectives to unlock new characters. There’s even splitscreen! Overall, it’s like a more polished and refined version of PUBG.

That’s not to say it’s perfect, though. Looting is a hassle. The UI is clunky and unresponsive. Sometimes the game bugs out and you can’t even scroll through items. It’s tedious to strip a gun of all its attachments to replace it with a better one you found. Ammo isn’t automatically picked up. It’s not a deal breaker, but it has resulted in some moments of frustration. Audio is another problem. Sound is imperative to locating your enemies and planning your next move. Sound in Blackout is a mess. You may think someone is shooting right outside of the building you’re in, but in actuality they’re across a field fighting someone else. It’s very difficult to gauge where people are based on footsteps and gunshots, and that can be incredibly frustrating in the top ten, when everyone is hiding and you need to deduce their locations.

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Verdict

Despite its shortcomings, Black Ops 4 feels like a return to form for the franchise in a way. It’s not perfect, but it gets a lot of things right. The removal of a campaign was a risky move, but it definitely paid off. Black Ops 4 has my friends and I staying up until the wee hours of the night, saying “one more round” more times than we can count, whether it’s a game of TDM, Blackout, or Zombies. Call of Duty Black Ops 4 is the premier multiplayer suite on the market right now, and it is definitely worth your time.

Final Score: 9