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  • Yo-kai Watch 3 Review - Tokyo To Texas
    by Justin Clark on February 15, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    If you had to explain Yo-kai Watch in a nutshell to someone who's never heard of or played it, you might boil it down to "Pokemon but with Japanese ghosts" or "Baby's first Shin Megami Tensei." Anything grim or distressing about a kid who can talk to ghosts goes by the wayside when the ghosts are comical entities like a missing left sock or a possessed police car. In this third expansive and quirky outing for the Yo-kai Watch series, our hero Nate has to take on a quest far more daunting than anything he’s faced so far: moving to America.Specifically, Nate's family ends up moving to BBQ, an over-the-top caricature of Texas, for his dad's job, and finds that the U.S. has supernatural problems all its own that he and his best yokai buddies, a cat named Jibanyan and an uber-effete ghost butler named Whisper, have to handle. Meanwhile, back in Nate's hometown of Springdale (which is located in Japan), a bubbly ball of nerdy energy named Hailey-Anne is enticed into buying a Yo-kai Watch of her own, which ties her to Usapyon, a ghost astronaut rabbit. Stuck with each other, they form a detective agency.That's really over-the-top as far as a game aimed squarely at a younger audience goes, and that's largely a result of how it's been localized. Yo-kai Watch 3 was originally two games in Japan, with Nate and Hailey-Anne's stories comprising a game each. The version released in the West has combined the two, allowing players to switch to the other campaign at will, before the two stories converge in the later hours. It's a daring choice that allows you a ton of control over how you experience the sprawling narrative, but it also highlights just how much the narrative didn't need to sprawl to begin with. The first major plot points of both stories--Nate meeting a boy in BBQ who can see yokai as well, and Hailey-Anne starting the detective agency--are a good five or six hours in. Having both stories in the same package is a positive, but having to manually thread together two stories that could already stand to be a little more concise is less so.On the plus side, that does give you ample reason to slow down and really take in your surroundings, which is really one of the greater joys in this game. Despite the aesthetic, the interpretations of Japan and Texas are surprisingly intricate places full of people worth speaking to and places to wander off to. As the game went on, one of my favorite things to do in it was to ride the trains in Springdale, missing stops just to look around. In addition, Nate's story has the compelling element of him trying to get accustomed to American culture, and on occasion, work you do in one of the towns--unlocking an app, or asking someone for a favor--affects the story in the other. But by and large, much of the first half of the game has both Nate and Hailey-Anne doing random fetch quests or being distracted with the game's numerous side missions, which are fun but wholly tangential from the main game. That creates a major problem with pacing early on.Yo-kai Watch has always been an accessible series, and this third entry is no different. The cycle of gameplay usually boils down to Nate finding a possessed human doing something unusual, using the watch to reveal the yokai controlling them, and getting into a simple showdown with it. After these battles, there's a strong chance it joins your menagerie of friendly yokai who can be used to fight other yokai--of which there are a whopping 600-plus. There are very few of what seasoned RPG veterans might consider a dungeon, and when there are, as long as you've found at least six yokai you like, you can blow through nearly all of them in mere minutes, with no real pressing need to collect more except for the sheer joy of collecting them.Combat does ostensibly have some measure of depth compared to the series' predecessors, with the addition of a 3x3 grid system that allows you to move yokai around to dodge attacks and pick up special items. There's also plenty of information about each yokai which you can put to good use, such as elemental weaknesses and their preferred food. That's all alongside familiar mechanics like quirky mini-games used to heal yokai that have been afflicted with status effects or to charge up ultimate (or more accurately, Soultimate) attacks. But with the exception of the occasional boss fight and the rather welcome difficulty spike of the final third of the game, it's rare that you actually have to utilize any of these mechanics. So much of the game's combat is a passive experience, but neglecting to have a full grasp of it when the game finally expects you to be proactive in battle will eventually get you in serious trouble.These are the things that make Yo-kai Watch excellent as an introductory RPG for beginners. For everyone else, however, the game has to endear itself in between major plot points on sheer charm which, thankfully, it's more than capable of delivering. On the Hailey-Anne side, what comes off as grating over-enthusiasm at the start settles down over time to become unflappable optimism and curiosity. The girl fears absolutely nothing, even when giant demons start showing up that send her running through the streets. Her alliance with Usapyon evolves from one of convenience to a genuinely sweet elementary school partnership over time, especially as the details of Usapyon's origins become clearer.Having both stories in the same package is a positive, but having to manually thread together two stories that could already stand to be a little more concise is less so.As mentioned, Nate's side has an even more intriguing angle. For some reason, the localization obscures the fact that Nate's hometown of Springdale is in Japan, but the touchstones of a kid dealing with severe culture shock are still here. Even when American culture is as hilariously exaggerated as it is, there's something subtly poignant about an ostensibly Japanese kid exploring an all-American city for the first time. And as his circle of friends expands to include Buck, a wild-haired kid with a deep southern drawl, so too does his experience with American yokai and all the loud and proud aspects of such.It's still a game aimed at a young crowd, though, and the game's poignancy is undercut a bit by wild reactions, non-sequitur humor, and impromptu j-pop musicals. Most of the scarier aspects of the game dealing with the existence and management of the afterlife have been softened to the absolute extreme. The game was only ever going to get so serious, and the winking nods to more adult fare like The Godfather, Fist of the North Star, The X-Files, and Twin Peaks are indeed just that: playful winks. It's less the competitive Growlithe-eat-Growlithe world of Pokemon than a cheerful, wacky playground where Pokemon-like creatures happen to live.There's not much to Yo-kai Watch 3, but there’s still a lot of charm to be found. The towns of Springdale and BBQ are both bright, pleasant places to be; the people in it are even more so. Visiting the world of Yo-kai Watch for the third time is a fun time, even though you’ll end up staying a lot longer than perhaps necessary. […]

  • Eastshade Review - Brushing Up
    by David Wildgoose on February 15, 2019 at 4:00 am

    There's a blacksmith, toiling away in the markets of the capital of Nava, who thinks making swords is boring. Why create something, she argues, when death is its only use? She'd rather make a kettle any day of the week. So I bought her kettle, and now I can brew all kinds of delicious, and at times mysterious, tea whenever I hole up and camp in the wilderness. And I still haven't found a sword.Eastshade is a non-violent, first-person adventure game set in a rolling open world full of quests. Imagine an Elder Scrolls game was an old boot, and you picked it up, turned it upside down and shook it until all the combat and magic and loot, every orc and dragon and bandit fell out. Then you took a shoehorn and eased a walking simulator inside the wrinkled leather before setting off on a delightful stroll across the countryside. Eastshade is just about the loveliest, prettiest, and just bloody nicest game I've played in years.You play an artist, recently shipwrecked in Eastshade near the small coastal village of Lyndor. After a kind chap finds you on the beach and lets you rest in his cozy cave until you recover, you resume your journey to visit and then paint your just-passed mother's favorite places in Eastshade. It's a simple setup, paying tribute to a lost loved one, and it's indicative of the kind of sincere, touching gestures you'll carry out over the course of the game.The flow of Eastshade will be familiar to anyone who has played an open-world RPG in recent years. You speak to NPCs, at first enquiring about the local history and points of interest before delving into something more personal and finally unlocking a unique quest. A child and aspiring painter asks you to help her acquire some art supplies. A smitten merchant wants some advice on how she should pursue her romantic interest. A park ranger needs your assistance in catching and caring for an injured waterfox. Not everyone has a story to tell--there are plenty of mute, generic NPCs filling the streets--but the ones you do meet almost always open up to you in the sweetest of ways.Most quests involve tracking down the next person in the quest chain or venturing afar to find a particular item. Some, however, require your talents as an artist. Indeed, it seems that once an Eastshadian discovers you can paint, they're quick to realize how much they'd really like some oil on canvas hanging over the fireplace. One keen art-lover asked me to paint him a picture of a chicken, so I made my way over the markets where I'd earlier spied some chickens nestling among the hay, set down my easel and painted the perfect poultry portrait.The act of painting itself isn't simulated in any way. You simply use the mouse to drag a frame across the screen. Anything within that frame is then captured, rendered in a painterly style, and reproduced on the canvas. In essence, you're taking screenshots. As such there's much pleasure to be had in framing your subject, as anyone who has unearthed the joys of a game's photo mode can attest. I was asked by a particularly pompous villager to paint his portrait, and fully capture all his self-described nobility and heroism. He was sitting in a tavern at the time, next to a huge fireplace whose chimney stretched to the double-story ceiling, so I framed him as this tiny figure dwarfed by the imposing stone furnace. He was grateful, of course--I'm sure the game logic merely checks if the required subject is in the frame--but I found it extremely satisfying.At a certain point you will also gain the ability to register with another local artist and begin taking commissions to earn glowstones, the local currency. It functions much like a job board: you check in, accept the gig, then return later with the finished painting and collect your cash. Each commission gives you a description of the type of painting desired and it's up to you to figure out where you need to go and what you need to include in the frame. Some are easy to identify, like a specific request for a windmill, but you may have no idea where to find it. Others are more vague, like a “starry cavern” or a “natural arch.” Either way, it's enjoyable to have your memory of the landscape tested as you struggle to recall elements of the terrain.Sometimes you won't have a spare canvas to paint on, meaning you'll have to obtain the materials necessary to craft a new canvas. Fortunately, there are wooden boards and piles of cloth lying around the various towns and villages, and NPCs don't seem to mind at all if you walk into their homes and grab some. It's a good idea to thoroughly explore every area and collect any such craftable materials as there doesn't seem to be any limit on how much you can carry. I found I typically had enough canvases to complete quest-critical paintings, but if I'd wanted to paint for fun, as it were, I would have had to tediously wait for previously collected materials to respawn or spend my hard-earned glowstones to buy them.Money's tight, you see, and there are other things worth purchasing. This isn't an RPG, so you won't be selling loot to finance your endeavors--though there is a sort of joke merchant who will buy anything off you for the princely sum of one glowstone. However, there are items you will need in order to access new areas of the world. A coat, for example, lets you continue to explore the countryside during the cold nights, while a tent lets you camp outdoors overnight or simply rest for a while if you need to meet someone at a certain time of day.You'll find yourself walking a fine line between securing what you need to complete your current tasks and saving up to afford what you need to unlock new quest possibilities. I remember standing in the markets and agonizing over whether to spend what little money I had on a fishing rod (because one quest wanted me to catch a particular type of fish) or a kettle (because my pockets were already bursting with all different kinds of plants and herbs). It was a genuinely stressful moment in a game otherwise conducted entirely in serene contemplation.Eastshade is a slow game. There's an awful lot of walking, or running once you realize there's the option, and you'll spend almost all your time trekking back and forth between villages or strolling across town from one shop to the next, ferrying this item to that person and hoping to speak to so-and-so about this-and-that. It would quickly grow tiresome were it not for the dinky penny-farthing bicycle you can buy and the presence of craftable fast travel items, and more importantly, the immense natural beauty found in every corner, along every path, and over every crest of the world.Indeed, Eastshade is a slow game that moves at just the right pace. From the warm, golden sunlight filtering through the dense canopy of the Great Tree to the pools of water on the terrace farms that skirt the city glittering in the morning light, you'll constantly find yourself stopping to catch your breath. Even after treading the same cobbled road a dozen or more times, hours later I would still find myself admiring the scenery, expansive vistas and minute details alike.The pace perfectly complements your actions, too. This is a game about taking your time and paying attention to the environment through which you're moving. You have a quest log and a map of the land, but there are no quest markers or waypoints telling you where to go. You have to read the lay of the land and remember details of where you've been. As you travel, the geographical contours of the world gradually become imprinted in your mind until you could paint them almost from memory alone. Almost.By giving you a paintbrush (and a kettle) instead of a sword, Eastshade is a rare first-person open world game that's not about killing but rather about doing good deeds, helping people see the error of their ways, and bringing communities together all through the power of art. It's a breath of fresh Eastshadian air and a genuine, unironic feel-good game. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put the kettle on. […]

  • Crackdown 3 Review - Man Of Steel
    by Chris Pereira on February 14, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    It's been a long wait for Crackdown 3. Delays can be a positive thing, offering developers time to refine and polish a game. In other cases, it can result in what feels like a dated experience. Crackdown 3 firmly falls in the latter category, offering some amusement but little in the way of interesting new ideas or fun things to do. It's large and bombastic, with plenty of chaos and collateral damage, but few redeeming values--like a video game version of Man of Steel.You play as a superpowered member of The Agency who is sent into a city to dispense justice as you systematically eliminate the comically evil members of a nefarious evil corporation. You start out relatively weak but progressively grow in power, jumping higher and gaining the ability to perform ground pounds, pick up and throw increasingly heavy objects, and so on. Enemy factions are responsible for certain aspects of the criminal operation, such as manufacturing a sort of poison, and taking them out weakens that area and makes your ultimate goal of taking down the big bad leader more feasible. There will be collateral damage along the way that is frowned upon--kill too many innocents, and a local militia puts up a halfhearted effort to put you down--but is soon forgotten. Yes, I'm describing Crackdown 3, not its 2007 progenitor.It would be fine for this to feel so familiar if the action itself were more engaging. The core of collecting orbs (to level up your agility and jump height) and wreaking havoc remains enjoyable, but it isn't strong enough to make up for Crackdown 3's numerous shortcomings. From the moment you gain control of your character, it's hard to shake the sense that this doesn't feel like a game from 2019. Draw distance aside, the visuals are underwhelming, leaning too heavily on recreating the simple cel-shaded look of past Crackdown games. The one technological advancement the game has to boast about--large-scale destruction, powered by Microsoft's Azure cloud servers--is reserved entirely for the online Wrecking Zone mode, which uses mode-specific maps rather than letting you blow up parts of the city itself. There's no meaningful destruction in the campaign, and the end result is a world that feels lifeless, as if some key element of it is missing.The game's opening takes place in a small area of the city and lays out the basic structure of your goals: Take over a particular boss's various bases to locate him or her and then complete a boss fight, which, in most cases, is a pretty standard encounter where the enemy has more health than usual. This tutorial is somewhat of an off-putting start; for a game about freedom and doing badass superhero things, you're stuck in a tightly confined area, underpowered, and tasked with a goal that entails killing some enemies and then removing a pair of batteries powering a propaganda station. Before long, the game opens up and you're given access to the full city and a wider selection of objectives to tackle, at which point there's some hope that the newfound freedom and variety will provide the excitement that's lacking in this early area.The problem is, what you do in that opening section is representative of the entire game; there's very little variety to speak of. Ostensibly, each of the different factions presents its own unique challenges and objectives for you to complete. Yet it quickly becomes apparent that what distinguishes them are only surface-level details. No matter the faction, you're always mindlessly shooting an endless wave of foes as you work your way toward objective markers. Once you're there, you'll usually hold a button. Sometimes you'll have glowing targets to shoot. For a certain objective, you have to shoot a piece of machinery or throw a rock underneath it (always two times) to destroy it. After multiple hours of this, the action begins to bleed together. All of these bases you complete are just another box you can check off the to-do list, rather than a satisfying challenge you look forward to dealing with. I suffered a crash midway through the game that might have resulted in me losing some small amount of progress, but with how same-y many of the objectives are, I honestly wasn't sure if I was repeating one I had already completed. One of the major criticisms of the original Crackdown was a lack of things to do, and while there might be more here on paper, far too much of it feels like filler, rather than worthwhile missions.Interesting enemies could have made these rote objectives more exciting, but they too suffer from a lack of diversity. There are different archetypes with their own attack patterns, but they do little to shake up the action, even if some do fly, have shields, rush at you, or pilot mechs. Snipers, due to the heavy damage they inflict, were the only enemies that prompted me to break from my otherwise uniform approach of attacking whatever was closest to me. Weapons have certain types of targets they're more or less effective against, but certain guns are so powerful that I found little need carefully evaluate what I was using. You move from one objective on the map to the next, hold down the trigger to lock on to enemies, hope it picks the target you want (not always a given), and then blast away.And that's okay. Crackdown 3 isn't a game where you should need to carefully consider your loadout and the precise manner in which you need to approach a fight; you're supposed to be a superhero who can dominate whatever is in front of you. But the combination of stale objectives and cannon-fodder enemies makes combat mindless and, at times, even boring, which is strange for a game filled with explosions and enemies flying off of rooftops. If you were to chart the excitement of playing through the campaign, there would be few peaks or valleys; it's just sort of a constant white noise, like you're taking a weed wacker at whatever is in front of you. It's not until much further into the game that you gain the weapons (like a gun that creates black holes) and high-level abilities (like being able to pick up and throw tanks) that make combat more entertaining. By that point, the repetitive goals and encounters have long since become stale. Making your way up the skyscrapers that serve as headquarters for the final few bosses provides some of the only memorable combat sequences, but these only serve to emphasize how rote so much of the game is otherwise.it's just sort of a constant white noise, like you're taking a weed wacker at whatever is in front of youOutside of the core objectives, there is some fun to be had. Stunt rings that require you to drive a vehicle through them are an amusing challenge, even if the solution is often to rely on your transforming vehicle's ability to jump into the air. (Your Agency car can be summoned at almost any time and transforms into various forms, which is a cool concept that's spoiled by the poor driving controls that make it feel like you're riding across a sheet of ice.) Rooftop races that have you going from checkpoint to checkpoint on foot, often by leaping from one building to the next, are a thrill. Likewise, climbing puzzles that have you ascend tall structures make for a chest-pounding activity. Just be sure to do those as soon as you meet the recommended agility level designated on the map; wait too long, and the satisfying rush of landing a difficult jump is gone due to your ability to skip obstacles with massive leaps.Co-op multiplayer improves things across the board, letting you race against a friend and engage in general shenanigans. The old Crackdown standby of picking up someone driving a car and throwing it--whether to help them reach a distant goal or simply to doom them--is a hilarious way to interact with another player, and it's nice that rooftop races can be a competitive activity. But all of this only masks the underlying problems of the game; the action is just as repetitive, and I found myself wishing my partner and I had something worth doing together. Still, co-op is easily the best way to play the campaign.Wrecking Zone, Crackdown 3's competitive multiplayer component, brings in the much-hyped cloud-powered destruction elements--but little else. There are two different 5v5 modes available: Agent Hunter, where you kill enemies and collect badges they drop to score points, and Territories, where you capture and hold zones to score points. Much like the campaign, neither mode brings anything new to the table, relying on the gunplay and destruction to do all the heavy lifting. What you see in your first few matches is repeated ad nauseam, with little variety.Rather than requiring players to freely aim, Wrecking Zone allows you to target enemies by holding a lock-on button that works even at long range. Doing so alerts the enemy to your position, but because this lock-on can be maintained so easily, securing a kill rarely feels enjoyable or as if you've truly earned it. It also means that deaths are often frustrating because they tend to be the result of someone spotting you first from an angle where it's difficult to break their line of sight. One-on-one duels amount to two players holding down their respective triggers and jumping around each other to little effect, due to the sheer strength of the lock-on; at that point, it's just a matter of who began firing first or if someone has to reload mid-fight. The end result is combat that's never truly satisfying.Destruction is Wrecking Zone's lone standout feature, but it's underutilized. Technically speaking, it's impressive, and the spectacle of watching buildings crumble is delightful. However, there tends to be the slightest of delays between when you'd expect that crumbling to begin and when it actually does, presumably due to the fact that this destruction is being processed by the cloud, rather than on your console. It's a nearly imperceptible wait, but it's enough to cause a feeling of disconnect with what's going on. Despite that, blowing things up is the most enjoyable part of Wrecking Zone, which makes it frustrating that it's not tied directly to what you're tasked with doing. There are times where you might be able to destroy a floor or wall to expose an enemy's position, but far more often you're better off repositioning yourself. Destruction tends to feel like an incidental event, rather than something that is a core aspect of gameplay. Because of that, Wrecking Zone is at odds with the one notable thing about it; your best opportunity to appreciate the destruction is to remove yourself from the action and hope no one comes to bother you as you blow things up.Leaping high through the air across rooftops and collecting orbs--which still feature one of the all-time great sound effects--is fun and rewarding, because that pursuit has a direct correlation to further improving your jump height. Lifting large objects and chucking them at foes is likewise an entertaining alternative to typical gunfights. Just like in its predecessors, these two superpowers are the primary source of what entertainment there is to be had in Crackdown 3. But it soon becomes apparent that the game has little new to offer beyond cool destruction tech that never gets put to good use. It certainly delivers on letting you blow things up and jump around the city. However, a dozen years after the first Crackdown offered that same experience but failed to provide you with enough interesting content surrounding that, it's truly disappointing to see this latest iteration suffer from the very same problems. […]

  • Far Cry: New Dawn Review - Tape It Up
    by Edmond Tran on February 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Spoiler alert: At the end of Far Cry 5, the United States gets nuked. Seventeen years later, the region and residents of Hope County have endured and mostly recovered from the devastation anew. The vegetation is more abundant, society has been reshaped, and there is a hell of a lot more duct tape everywhere. Everything feels new and different--well, except for that fact that there's ruthless, tyrannical oppression taking over everything and it's up to you, and basically only you, to stop it. Some things never change. That's Far Cry: New Dawn--despite a few new novelties and a great mechanical twist, New Dawn feels exactly like what it is: a direct continuation of Far Cry 5.That's not inherently a bad thing. New Dawn features the same kind of forward-thinking approach to open-world exploration and progression as Far Cry 5. While main missions are mapped out for you, the discovery of side activities like enemy outposts, treasure hunts (formerly prepper stashes), and companion recruitment missions mostly comes from your own organic exploration. Earning perk points to improve your abilities is tied to your discovery of hidden caches and diversifying the activities you undertake. New Dawn is a more concise game--the map is smaller than Far Cry 5 and there's less curated content to discover this time around--but the emphasis is still on staying out in the world and soaking up the environment.That sense of freedom has been diminished, however. It's not the fact that you're revisiting Hope County, but rather how New Dawn sets up the pins. In Far Cry 5, you began in the middle of the map and were allowed to explore in any direction you wished; New Dawn starts you off in the bottom corner of the map and basically pushes you in a steady, linear sweep north as you slowly reclaim territory, and asks you to regularly bring resources back to your base in that starting area to bolster it.What's to stop you from just darting ahead? Well, damage numbers. New Dawn introduces RPG elements, like damage numbers, into its design for the first time in the series. The game's guns and enemies fall into four different tiered ranks, and getting ahead requires that you go out into the world to scavenge crafting materials to upgrade your base so you can upgrade your weapons workshop and eventually craft better guns to take down the higher rank enemies impeding your progress. Outfits, armor, and defense numbers don't factor in your growth, just weapons. Guns at rank 1 and 2 will do a minimal amount of damage to well-armored rank 3 and elite rank enemies.Early on, this can be annoying if you try to push the limits of the game in a way you're not meant to. Heading too far into the map and needing to use up hundreds of bullets to take down a rank 3 bear you encounter isn't terrifying as much as it is silly, and eventually, the demands of story missions will stop you from going too far.But if you dial down your Far Cry 5-style expectations of freedom and go with the flow, you run into these awkward predicaments far less often. Your guns feel like they do the damage they're supposed to, and enemies feel like they have an acceptable level of resistance. In fact, once you get access to the top-tier arsenal, things will start to swing wildly in your favor--your guns will feel overpowered to the point where even shooting rank 1 enemies in the foot might be enough to take them out--which feels great when you're getting overwhelmed. Played the right way, the game's RPG-style systems basically feel invisible, and you can enjoy Far Cry's style of weighty gunplay and feel like an incredibly competent one-person army. The feeling of eventually being able to overcome New Dawn's elite enemies is good, but you're left wondering why you needed to be held back by artificial gating at all.It doesn't help that there's no tangible sense of growth with weapons and vehicle crafting; New Dawn's selection of guns and cars isn't dramatically different enough between ranks to make the large distinction in damage output believable. Rank 1 weapons are a varied suite of handguns, rifles, and shotguns, and higher-rank arsenals are basically defined by the increasing amount of duct tape and junk on that same suite, as if that stuff has magical properties that makes the guns perform better. There are lots of guns to choose from, but if you've played Far Cry 5 you'll immediately recognize them, duct tape or no.The one nice exception is the new Saw Launcher, which shoots circular saw blades. Higher tier versions of the weapon actually have noticeably different properties, like the ability to shoot saw blades with ricocheting, homing, and boomerang traits. It's the only weapon which truly feels like it was borne out of the post-apocalypse, improvised from scavenged parts. Aerosol cans, pipes, and spray paint might give the other guns and cars a cool look, but it doesn't change how familiar they feel.The same can be said of the world itself. Far Cry 5's Hope County already felt a bit post-apocalyptic--the rural setting was isolated from the world thanks to antagonist Joseph Seed--so even though there are plenty of visible differences to the region, the impact of those changes isn't massive. There are a few key locations that provoke some amusement in their discovery, but the strength of Far Cry 5's Hope County was its natural environments--the forests, lakes, rivers, and mountains. The conceit that the region was re-vegetated by a super bloom after nuclear devastation means that the vibe in New Dawn is basically identical, despite dramatic increases in upended cars and graffiti. It's a pretty post-apocalypse, but it doesn't have the feeling of desperation you might associate with the theme. Scavenging for materials doesn't feel like a drastic necessity, just a way to get ahead. New Dawn doesn't feel like it takes the theme to enough of an extreme to feel meaningful or different.The solid bones of Far Cry's combat are still here, though, and they're still very good. Taking on outposts (within your rank), whether that be via stealth or aggression, is still enjoyable, and the game encourages you to repeat them at increased difficulties to earn more resources. New Dawn also introduces seven self-contained missions called Expeditions. These are large, diverse maps set outside Hope County, and they feature setpieces like a New Orleans amusement park, an aircraft carrier, and even a Splinter Cell-themed plane crash. Expedition environments are a highlight, but the snatch-and-grab objectives mean that you're never really encouraged to stop and appreciate them--you're more concerned with getting the hell out of there as a non-stop stream of enemies comes after you.The concise nature of the game means there's a remarkable lack of time given to the characters and plot, too. A few of the major characters feel like they could be interesting, the twin sister antagonists especially, but the few interactions you have with them are definitely not enough to develop them and make you care. While the performances have gusto, key moments of pathos just feel completely unearned. Something major happened to a key character and I was surprised how little empathy I felt. A detestable deal is made and I was mad at how little time they spent justifying it. Underdeveloped connections to characters also exacerbate the relative mundanity of the story missions compared to the game's side and open-world activities--turret sequences, bland chases, forced melee fights, and even a slow boat ride, all of which go on for way too long.You do get a double jump, though. That is, the ability to jump in mid-air. You also get the ability to basically turn invisible and give yourself super speed and strength. The Far Cry series has always dabbled in the mystic, but yes: In a strange turn of events, New Dawn eventually says "screw it" and gives you access to superhuman powers. And the way it changes how you approach the world is undoubtedly the best thing about the game.These sudden powers let you lean hard into superhero fantasy, allowing you to bound over fences and onto buildings, using your newfound mobility and invisibility to completely terrorize enemies like you're the Predator, or perhaps jumping high into the fray and firing off explosive arrows, pretending you're Hawkeye from The Avengers. Maybe you're more of a Wolverine, activating the berserker ability to rush an outpost at super speed and send heavily armed assailants and bears alike flying with your bare fists. A minor new mechanic lets you temporarily pick up shields from enemies and toss them like you're Captain America (supporting characters even refer to you as "Cap"), and I'm shocked they didn't do more with this--the inability to permanently keep a shield is a big disappointment.The powers are so good that it's almost a shame they come at a point late in the game where you'll likely already be well-equipped to deal with elite rank enemies, since a few scenarios that challenge your ability to use these effectively definitely would have been a welcome addition. But as it stands, they're a fantastic expansion of Far Cry's combat vocabulary. They completely elevate your confidence to rip through everything and everyone, suddenly turning New Dawn's familiar, pedestrian experience into a raucous blast.There's a lot of potential in the ideas seeded in New Dawn, but there isn't enough room for many of them to breathe and feel fully realized. Not the post-apocalyptic theme, not the RPG mechanics, not the weapons, vehicles, plot, or characters. Advancing through the adventure is an enjoyable experience, especially once you get your superhuman powers, but this is largely because Far Cry 5's combat and progression models remain compelling enough to propel you forward. For its part, New Dawn is a palatable but unremarkable spin-off that feels like it could have achieved so much more. […]

  • Jump Force Review - Shonen Through And Through
    by Jordan Ramée on February 14, 2019 at 5:00 am

    Jump Force is a celebration of 50 years of Weekly Shonen Jump manga, featuring nearly four dozen fighters from 16 of the magazine's most iconic stories. Bandai Namco's arena tag-team fighting game borrows plenty of elements from its source materials, for better and worse. Although Jump Force's campaign story drags on for way too long and ignores what could have been interesting character interactions in favor of repeated excuses for everyone to punch the crap out of each other, its combat is an enjoyable dance between two teams of fighters--thanks to the game's excellent mechanics and flashy visuals.In Jump Force, you're an ordinary human who's caught up in a warzone when the Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Naruto universes collide into our world and bring their assortment of heroes and villains with them. After being mortally wounded by Frieza, you're resurrected as a hero capable of learning the powers, skills, and abilities of Shonen Jump's characters, and you decide to join Goku, Luffy, and Naruto's Jump Force of allies in order to fix everyone's broken world. What follows is a fairly stereotypical shonen affair, with your character growing stronger over time, enemies and friends switching sides, and a mysterious evil working behind the scenes. Like most fighting games, there's not a single problem you don't ultimately just fix with your fists, from deciding team leader to knocking sense into those who have been corrupted by the same evil forces responsible for everyone's worlds colliding with one another.There's a decent story in Jump Force, but it's buried beneath a second act that goes on for far too long. After getting acquainted with your new allies, the game tasks you with responding to threats around the globe, as well as the recruitment of any additional heroes who've managed to stumble into our world from their respective universes. Character models during cutscenes are all rather cookie-cutter, as everyone stands in the same position throughout the story, only stiffly moving their mouths and occasionally blinking. The actual story moves with the same awkwardly slow pace, and it doesn't explain what's going on with everyone's worlds or what the villains' motivations are until the third act, so you play through most of the game without any idea as to what you're really fighting against. Not being able to skip cutscenes is also rather annoying, as exiting out of a mission for any reason--such as buying more items to use in combat--has you watch the same 40- to 90-second scene again.There are brief snippets where you can see how a side story might have helped flesh out the characters, which in turn could have been a good incentive to keep pushing forward through the campaign. For example, Boruto recognizes a sadness behind the eyes of My Hero Academia's Midoriya and confides with the young hero that he knows how hard it is to live up to the ideal of father figures. But the game breezes past moments like this in order to get to the next fight.Thankfully, those fights are a blast to play. Every combatant comes equipped with an assortment of attacks, blocks, grabs, counters, and dodges that operate in a rock-paper-scissors system. Combat is fairly accessible, and it doesn't take long to understand how the basic mechanics work. However, with over 40 playable fighters, it takes time to get a handle on the entire roster's assortment of strengths and weaknesses, giving you plenty of reason to keep playing. Each fighter has four distinct and unique special attacks as well. Even though these special moves can be broken down into one of seven different types--short-range, dashing, counter, area-of-effect, long-range, shield, or buff--each fighter handles quite differently. If you've read the manga that these characters come from, you already have a fairly good idea as to what most of these iconic moves are and how they behave, but you'll still have to practice with each fighter to get a grasp of what every move can do.Every attack, basic or advanced, can be avoided in some way--whether via blocking, dodging, or countering--so most fights are tense, with each side looking for a way to bait their foe into opening themselves up for attack without putting themselves at a disadvantage. I've had fights where, after 30 seconds of back-and-forth, both sides are one strike away from defeat, and the battle continues for another full minute of counters, perfect dodges, and last-second blocks. It's empowering to finish off your foe with a perfectly executed combo or snag a victory when all hope seems lost. Each win feels like it needs to be earned, and this encourages you to explore the varied movesets of each fighter, experiment in how attacks might be chained together, and deduce your go-to characters' weaknesses in order to avoid defeat.This is especially true in regards to the campaign, as you're allowed to customize your character with any four special abilities you want. You can also choose your character's gender, body type, voice, and skin tone, as well as dress them with an assortment of hairstyles, make-up, jewelry, and clothes, allowing you to build your perfect protagonist. Completing campaign missions earns you in-game currency, which you can use to buy new outfits and items. Cosmetics won't affect your character, but it's still fun to put together outfits and it's a welcome distraction when you need a moment to step away from the steep challenge of the late-game battles.Once you're done with Jump Force's campaign, there's still plenty to do--even if not all of it is worthwhile. Free Missions are the game's version of a challenge mode, but it's not all that different from the handicaps placed on you in late-game story missions. The same can be said for Extra Missions mode, which you can play if you need a little extra in-game cash for that smokin' pair of black pants you've been eyeing for your character or if you want to expand your level cap.However, a lot of fun can be had in Jump Force's competitive modes. You can play online or off, with both friendly and ranked matches in the former. Online is where your skills will be put to the test, meaning it's also where you'll find the game's best fights. Jump Force also allows you to practice against a computer while you wait for the game to find you an opponent, so you're not just waiting on a loading screen, which is a welcome touch. Ranked Play provides the most challenging combat in Jump Force by far, but earning higher titles--and thus bragging rights--by defeating more skilled opponents is a compelling goal to work towards.Each win feels like it needs to be earned, and this encourages you to explore the varied movesets of each fighter.It's awesome to see Jump Force's roster of playable fighters include so many characters from Shonen Jump's history, even the ones from manga that aren't as mainstream but no less important, like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and Saint Seiya. That said, there's a disappointing disparity in the number of male and female characters, especially when Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Naruto contribute to nearly half the roster and only have two women between all three of them. Shonen Jump has always been geared towards young boys, but that doesn't mean its manga hasn't had great female fighters. Including Dragon Ball's Piccolo over Android 18 and Naruto's Gaara over both Sakura and Hinata is odd, as is leaving out Black Clover's Noelle, Yu-Gi-Oh's Anzu, My Hero Academia's Uraraka, and Boruto's Sarada.Jump Force is a worthy celebration of the legacy of Shonen Jump manga, but it honors its source material a little too well with how filler-heavy the middle of its story arc is. However, even if the game rarely provides a clear motivation for stopping evil other than good must always oppose it, the act of stomping out villains in Jump Force's frantic bouts of tag-team arena combat is an enjoyable test of strategy. And with over 40 characters to master, there's ample opportunity to develop new strategies and reach greater feats of combat prowess in online multiplayer. […]