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Review: Horizon Zero Dawn

Game: Horizon Zero Dawn1

Developer: Guerilla Games

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Platform(s): PlayStation 4

Release Date: February 28th, 2017

MSRP: $59.99

With the Nintendo Switch out now that this is posted I felt a particular urgency to play Horizon. It’s a game I knew I would like and one I was determined to spend as much time with as possible prior to Zelda and the Switch. Roughly three days later I’ve put over thirty hours into Guerilla Games PS4 exclusive, and I’m so glad I made time for it. 17097308_1464375290241493_8658031887260918580_o

Our protagonist is Aloy, a female outcast of the Nora tribe and a skilled hunter. Horizon is set in what I can only describe as the post-post-apocalypse. Maybe I’m just making excuses for a game I like but how far removed  ( by thousands of years) Horizon is from the end of the world makes it infinitely more interesting than your typical post-apocalyptic game. Your task is simple, win acceptance into the Nora tribe that shunned you as a “Motherless outcast” and discover the truth about your own heritage as well as the truth behind what happened to the “metal world” and the people that came before.

The world of Horizon is populated with lots of dangers including Raiders and cultists, but the biggest by far are the wild machines. The wilds of this earth are filled with rejects from Transformers Beast Wars. The smallest of the bunch are known as Watchers, they resemble raptors and are easy enough to take down. These typically appear as guardians for herds of other machines to alert them to your presence. Beyond Watchers, you’ll encounter a whole lot of cool looking animal-themed robots from the Bison looking Long Horns to the Sawtooth which is essentially a huge Sabertooth Tiger. The deeper into the game you get, the more you’ll encounter large-scale killers like the Thunderjaw a T-rex with twin missile launchers and an attitude.

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Hey big fella

 

Combat with these beasts is one of the deepest and most enjoyable gameplay aspects of Horizon. You don’t have the power to brute force these beasts so instead you’ll rely on Aloy’s Focus an ancient device that gives her a sort of eagle vision or detective mode that is all too common in open world games these days. You can use this to locate glowing weak points on enemies and pick away at them slowly in a very, Monster Hunter like fashion. Some of the larger enemies like the Thunderjaw can even have heavy weapons knocked off and used against them. If monster slaying is your game Horizon has a whole line of hunting lodge side quests to scratch that itch.

Aside from necessary large scale encounters Horizon has a large focused on stealth. Small human enemies and small robots like the Watchers can be killed with a single strike from stealth. Horizon took a page from Assassins Creed with a whistle mechanic that had me stacking bodies in the bushes pulling my enemies one at a time.

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Be very quiet

 

As you complete main story missions and side missions you’ll accumulate experience and be able to dump skill points into upgrades abilities like increased stealth or stronger melee strikes. In addition to these abilities, Aloy will gain some exceptional skills through completing side quests. Early on Aloy gets the ability to hack small machines to fight for her. Throughout the game you’ll find robot manufacturing plants called “Cauldrons” reaching the center of one of these and hacking its core will allow you to subsquently hack the machines produced there but don’t expect to do so without a fight.

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Now we wait

 

In addition to Aloys bow, you can purchase many weapons from traders on your journey including trip wires and a sort of repeater rifle. I never used much more than my trusty bow, and a weapon called the rope caster which allows you to tie down enemies temporarily. You can also buy new armor sets for Alloy which give certain benefits like damage reduction from specific elements. You can also find and craft upgrade modules to boost weapon and armor stats.

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A look at the weapon modding screen

 

The crafting system of Horizon is incredibly deep. One rule applies always be looting. Grab plants, machine scraps everything you can, you’ll always be crafting fresh ammo and health potions and most of these materials are also used in trading with merchants, however, the metal shards you loot are the primary currency in play.

Most importantly for me, Horizon fixes a lot of the problems I have with open world games. For starters it has towers to help reveal the map in the roaming Long Necks but only four in the entire game. You mean I don’t have to climb 400 watch towers? Thanks Guerilla. The map also doesn’t feel too populated, you have plenty of side activities, but they don’t feel overwhelming. You can also buy maps to reveal more icons if you like horrible messes. Combat doesn’t feel repetitive like it often does in games like Farcry and Assassins Creed fighting behemoths that are far stronger than you keeps you on your toes.

It seems funny to say that one of Horizons biggest strengths is that it delivers on story. I have no doubt we will see a Horizon trilogy, despite this Guerilla left no real dangling threads. Horizon answers all of the big questions it answers. A sequel is basically a sure thing, but it may be something very diffrent.

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View from the top

 

Horizon Zero Dawn is a really special game. It blends an enticing story with likable characters and gorgeous environments. It has challenging and rewarding combat that makes you want to challenge robotic death machine for hours on end. Horizon Zero Dawn is a perfect open world game and Sonys new IP to watch.

Score: 10 out of 10

 

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Review: Psychonauts In The Rhombus Of Ruin

Game: Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin

Developer: Double Fine Productions

Publisher: Double Fine Productions

Platform(s): PlayStation 4(PSVR)

Release Date: February 21st, 2017

Price: $19.99

It’s been twelve years since Psychonauts the zany platformer about a Raz a young boy with psychic abilities attending a summer camp to become a psychic spy or “Psychonaut” was released by Double Fine. Psychonauts 2 was announced by creator Tim Schaefer and launched with a Fig campaign in order to crowd fund a portion of its development costs. The crowdfunding campaign was a success, and we’re set to see Psychonauts proper sequel sometime in 2018. In the meantime, however, the PlayStation VR exclusive Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin sets picks up where the original game left off and sets the stage for Psychonauts 2.

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Secret bases and such

 

Rhombus of Ruin picks up where Psychonauts left off, and I mean exactly where it left off. You start off aboard the camp jet on your way to rescue Truman from unclear captors. Obviously having played the original game will make you appreciate this experience a whole lot more bit it isn’t entirely necessary and can serve as a good introduction point for those hoping to play Psychonauts 2. It’s also a great a fun reason to whip it your PSVR, gotta justify that purchase somehow.

This Psychonauts VR experience works and looks pretty great. Entering the beautifully animated Tim Burton-esque world Psychonauts is both gorgeous and fun. You play as Raz from a first person perspective although you never move. To make progress through the environment Raz can use his Psychic abilities to enter the viewpoints of other living creatures. In the first section of the game, you’ll jump between the perspectives of Lilie, Sasha and other familiar Psychonauts characters to learn about Raz’s abilities including telekinesis you can use to move objects, pyrokinesis for burning anything in your path and psyblasts to really bring the hurt.

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The underwater environments look gorgeous in VR

 

The bulk of the gameplay involves moving through the perspectives of different guards and fish where Raz, his Psychonaut Companions, and Truman are being held.You’ll have to shift perspectives a lot of the time by using fish to get from point to point and free your companions of hallucinations brought on by poisoning from a crystal known as Psyrilium that causes sickness in Psychics.As you free your allies, you’ll be one step closer to regaining all of Raz’s abilities and finding the culprits behind Truman’s kidnapping.

Rhombus of Ruin isn’t terribly long. It is at its core another VR experience. I beat the entire thing in one roughly three-hour sitting. The puzzles, while fun aren’t terribly taxing and mostly revolve around snapping Sasha and the others of their Psyrilium induced hallucinations. One such puzzle involves rescuing Coach Oleander from a dance party.

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Oh, hey coach

 

The VR environments are rendered smoothly although I found myself craning my neck a whole lot in order to target my next psychic jump. In addition that all too familiar “out of play area” VR message would pop up, this might simply be the consequence of me attempting to take in the environment, though.

Rhombus of Ruin is a fun well put together VR experience and a great time for fans who’ve been waiting years for more Psychonauts. It may not resonate with people unfamiliar with the series. For those people, things like Batman and Job Simulator are more satisfying VR experiences. It may not be terribly long, but it’s a small taste of a world I have a lot of love for and has me more excited than ever for Psychonauts 2, I hope we can make it to 2018.

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see you in 2018

 

Score: 7 out of 10

 

 

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Review: Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

Game: Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

Developer: Comfox & Bros

Publisher: FDG Entertainment

Platform(s): ios, Android, PC( reviewed), PS4, PS Vita(unreleased) Xbox One, Nintendo Switch(unreleased)

Release Date(s): November 14th, 2013 (ios), March 17th, 2015(Windows PC), September 7th, 2016 (Xbox One/PS4), December 15th, 2016 (Android), 2017 (Nintendo Switch), TBA (Vita)

MSRP: $5.99(mobile devices) $14.99(PC and console)

With a short lull in between all the big Resident Evils and other big titles on the horizon, I found time to give due attention to a little game that has been crowding my Steam library for over a year. Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas was described upon its original release on ios back in 2013 as a beautiful mobile tribute to Zelda. I am not the biggest fan of mobile gaming; I’ll play on PC or console over my phone in a heartbeat. So it’s no surprise I hadn’t heard a damn thing about this game before it came to PC and even then it took me some time to finally get around to it I can at least say I’m happy I did, and you should too.

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Just be cool, nobody thinks you’re a Zora

 

Oceanhorn is most easily explained by its likeness to Zelda, specifically its similarities to A Link to the Past and Windwaker. In usual Zelda fashion, you’ll explore dungeons and fight enemies using your trusty Sword and Shield, bombs, and bow and arrow. Through a brief look at the environment and simplicity in the many islands, you’ll explore it’s obvious that this game was built on a phone, however, the addition of gamepad support has you feeling like you’re on a real Hyrule adventure in no time.

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Maybe the Zelda homage is too on the nose

 

Oceanhorn follows a young boy on a journey to find his father and defeat the legendary Oceanhorn, the last of the living fortresses. You’ll travel from island to island in search of three medallions you can use to call forth Oceanhorn. Traversing diffrent dungeons and puzzles.

Oceanhorns biggest weaknesses are in its camera perspective. The isometric viewpoints can make puzzles frustrating at times and bring progression to a frustrating slog. In addition to a camera built for phones, Oceanhorn’s likeness to Zelda can be as bad as it is good. It wears its influences on its sleeve sometimes it just feels like a plain rip off. Heat containers are just called heart containers, save for having no control over it everything about the boat design just screams Windwaker. Oceanhorn even uses the typical structure of a Zelda title, three dungeons to obtain three stones or medallions of legendary power. One of the races called the Gilfolk are very clearly the equivalent of Zoras from the Zelda series.oceanhorn-steam-screenshot-6

Oceanhorn does have a few key differences from Zelda, for one it has a leveling system. You’ll gain experience as you defeat enemies and finish goals outlined in your journal such as breaking a certain number of pots or knocking an enemy into the water to defeat them. As you level up you’ll be able to carry more ammo for weapons like the bow and arrow and unlock some new equipment like the pumpkin seed gun, a projectile weapon used to defend yourself from your boat.

Oceanhorn might be something of a lower quality Zelda clone, but it’s something charming in its own right. For the low asking price of fifteen dollars(as I wouldn’t recommend playing on mobile) its a short little adventure to tide you over until Breath of the Wild launches and best of all can be played on almost any device you already own. Oceanhorn has a sequel in the works, and I hope with a bigger budget, the team at Comfox & Bros make an excellent second outing.

Score:7 out of 10

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Review: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle

Game: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega battle

Developer: Bamtang Games

Publisher: Bandai Namco

Platform(s): PlayStation 4(Reviewed), Xbox One

Release Date: January 16th, 2017

MSRP: $14.99

No doubt looking to score points for the sake of nostalgia and the fact that a major motion picture based on the original franchise is due out in March, Bandai Namco has released a downloadable 2D brawler based on the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Mega Battle is a pretty simple 2D brawler in the vein of Streets of Rage and the like. The most apt comparison probably being the Power Rangers brawler for the NES and Sega Genisis. You’ll move across six levels, each split into three different sections beating up classic Power Ranger enemies like Puttys and some strange looking Knights, Birdmen and flying parasites from the Dark Dimension.

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Always a surfboard level

 

You’ll collect experience from defeated enemies and level up at designated stations provided by Alpha-5. You’ll be able to buff your ranger’s damage output as well as health, defense and stamina in addition to unlocking new and more powerful combos.

The basic level structure consists of two large brawler sections followed by the Rangers facing off against a monster first on foot and then in their Megazord. Megazord combat is the less than stellar shakeup. You begin in Tankzord form, each player has their own reticle and can fire at marked targets on the giant foe as well as destroy incoming projectiles. After this stage is over, you’ll move on to full-on Megazord combat, which, for me is the biggest disappointment.  While the amazing art of Mega Battle combined with the original theme while you battle a giant monster is awesome, these fights are bogged down to simple QTE button presses. Sure, in multiplayer every player has to get it correct to land a hit, but it still feels rather trivial.mighty-morphin-power-rangers-mega-battle-reveal-trailer-ps4-xb1

The art style of Mega Battle feel’s super cutesy and comic bookie. The characters and monsters all look beautiful, and you’ll have plenty of characters to choose from. Each Ranger has two models while unmorphed one for the first two seasons of the show and you’ll be able to play as fan-favorite Tommy Oliver as bothe the Green and White Ranger.

Mega Battle supports up to four player co-op which is most certainly the best experience the game has to offer. I played once through main story solo and once with a second player. The manic screens of repetitive enemies can quickly lose their charm over the roughly three-hour story if you’re playing solo, but half the entertainment comes from having at least one buddy to play with. You’ll be able to use powerful combination moves with multiple players, these are unlocked on the skill tree mentioned earlier.mighty-morphin-power-rangers-mega-battle-fighting-700x366-optimal

After beating the game, you’ll unlock boss rush mode as well as a special floor clearing mode called Rita’s tower. I only played around with these for a short while, but they add some extra playability to an otherwise short game. At a $15.00 price point, the six-level count is excusable, and the boss rush and tower modes add some fun after the fact. The story is also worth multiple runs for the sake of leveling up multiple characters.

If you want a closer look, my pal Tom joined me for a brief look at the games first level over on my Youtube channel which you can check out below.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle is a solid little game for fans of the series as well as fans of 2D Brawlers, it’s out now on Ps4 and Xbox One.

Score: 8 0ut of 10

 

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Review: Assassins Creed Syndicate

Game: Assassins Creed Syndicate

Developer: Ubisoft Quebec

Publisher: UbiSoft

Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One

Release Date: PS4/Xbox One October 23, 2015, Windows November 19th, 2015

MSRP: $60

These days, whenever an Assassin’s Creed title is released, the first thing that comes to mind is oversaturation. This isn’t surprising when you consider that this is the 10th game in the series (no, you didn’t read that wrong). As someone who has been playing this series since the beginning without missing a beat, I can say with certainty that this game hits all the right notes. I haven’t felt this confident in an AC game since Brotherhood (the sequel to Assassin’s Creed II). Now I should say that the game doesn’t do anything remarkable or new, but despite that, Ubisoft has made a game that plays it safe, and that’s what the series needed right now.

The Frye twins

The Frye twins

The latest installment in the AC series follows Jacob and Evie Frye (pictured here), twin assassins running about Victorian London. Without revealing too much, I can say the story follows our protagonists fighting Templar-controlled gangs led by a Templar Grand Master by the name of Crawford Starrick for control of London, while also searching for a piece of Eden (the re-occurring piece of advanced technology in the series). Jacob and Evie are laid out as very different characters, with Jacob portrayed as being more of a headstrong brute, while Evie plays the role of the more traditional stealth-based assassin we’re used to. Despite these two having different personalities and play styles (as well as a few different skills on each character’s skill tree), they play about the same.2864166-assassins_creed_syndicate_combat-kukri

The plot isn’t incredibly inspired, but it keeps a moderate pace, providing enough content to prevent the player from losing interest. The real gem here, however, is the story that takes place outside of the Animus, the virtual reality machine that enables users to experience past ancestors’ lives through their own genetic memory. While we have no gameplay outside the Animus, the overall plot makes it the first real bit of progress story-wise since AC III. Dare I say that we may even find ourselves playing as Shaun Hasting in the next installment?

On the technical end, the game runs fine with very little to no bugs being experienced during my playthrough (the same however can’t be said of its predecessor: AC Unity). I encountered some slight hitching as well as the occasional dip in framerate during my 20-plus hours with the game, which is nothing that I would consider overly disruptive or game breaking.assassins-creed-syndicate2015-11-20-18-59-26-100630350-orig

Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty: what I didn’t like. While Jacob and Evie are more appealing characters than say, AC III’s Connor Kenway, I don’t ever feel like I understand either character’s motivation. Jacob only wants to form the strongest gang in London because that’s what he wants to do, while Evie wants to track down the piece of Eden because that’s what she wants to do. The characters seem one-dimensional, and I didn’t feel like I actually understood what the meanings were behind these motives. As far as the game’s core mechanics go, they’re nothing new. Climb towers, reveal missions, and assassinate targets. Rinse and repeat. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, although it can become stale rather quickly. The use of gang members (Jacob’s Rooks) is similar while not identical to that of the assassin initiates in AC Brotherhood.

Crawford Starrick, Just look at that mustache.

Crawford Starrick, Just look at that mustache.

Fans of the series will love it. While it does nothing new, it gets the series back on track and gives it a breath of life after the terrible taste AC Unity left in more than a few players’ mouths. It’s the most fun I’ve had with the series since Black Flag, and I hope Ubisoft has the sense to give our favorite assassins some time to breathe before we dive back into the Animus.

 

Score: 8 out of 10

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Review: FireWatch

Game: FireWatch

Developer: Campo Santo

Publisher(s): Panic

Platforms: Windows, OS X, Linux, PS4, Xbox One

Release Date: February 9th, 2016

MSRP: $19.99

What is Firewatch? It’s a question I found myself asking again and again in the month leading to its release. The game in question was made by the fine folks at Campo Santo; it is a 3D adventure game for the PC and Playstation 4 set in the Wyoming wilderness of Shoshone national forest in 1989. You play as Henry who has taken a job as a summer Fire watchmen in the park. The majority of the story is told through radio conversations between Henry and his female supervisor Delilah. If you have an itch for an intriguing mystery told in a unique setting Firewatch may very well be the game for you. I’ll do my best to keep this review spoiler free.firewatch1

Firewatch takes a unique approach to making us feel familiar with its main protagonist very quickly. Through a series of dialog options, we are given about 20 years of history on the player character. While some of these don’t feel story altering, it is a good way to create some comprehensive back story in a short time. In the span of ten minutes, we learn how Henry met his wife Julia as well as the incidents that lead to him taking such an isolating job in the national park service. The core gameplay is similar to that of a game like Gone Home, you walk around the park investigating disturbances radioed in by Delilah things like teenagers setting off fireworks, downed power lines, you get the idea. The game really shines in its dialog. The quips and chatter between Henry and Delilah keep you both entertained and invested. I’ve never felt bored despite the fact that the bulk of the gameplay is simply walking from point A to point B.

firewatch_150305_06Visually the game is stunning. It’s cartoon-like art style, and colorful imagery really brings the forest to life in an amazing way. I’ve learned while writing this that there is even a way to order original prints of the photos you take in game.

Firewatch won’t take up a whole lot of your time(I beat it in one sitting of about four hours), but it does leave a bit to be desired. The ending seemed rather abrupt to me; one mystery was resolved, but Henry had no real pay off. It’s hard to justify such an in-depth backstory on a character when none of his personal problems are ever resolved.Firewatch has well-written characters and enough of a mystery to keep you wanting more. However, it seems to leave you that way. At a twenty dollar price point if you have an afternoon to kill it’s worth your time.

Score: 7 out of 10

 

 

 

 

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Review: Ratchet and Clank (2016)

Game: Ratchet & Clank

Platform(s): PlayStation 4

Developer: Insomniac

Publisher: Sony

Release date: April 12th, 2016

MSRP: $40.00

In 2002 the character action platform Ratchet and Clank was the only thing on my mind. When I heard, 2016 was bringing a re-imagined version of one of my favorite games I was skeptical. However, 2016’s Ratchet and Clank is so much more than an HD remake. It’s a perfection of one of the best action platformers on the PS2 and a welcome breath of fresh air for a genre that is next to non-existent in the current gaming landscape.

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Besides Quark himself the Galactic Rangers are brand new characters

 

While it tells the same story, it adds stunning new visuals as well as welcome changes to collectible locations and a few new sequences including playable sections as Clank.
All the staples of the series remain. Collect bolts to upgrade Ratchets ever expanding arsenal of handheld death machines. A new card collection system has been added that gives the player different buffs like a boost to the percentage of bolts earned for every set of 3 completed. The cards also play a role with a memorable weapon for fans of the series. The R.Y.N.O. or Rip ya a new one is collected this time, not with bolts but by completing 3 R.Y.N.O. card sets.While most cards are found as mere enemy drops, the R.Y.N.O. cards are in set locations like gold bolts or any other collectible.ratchet-and-clank-e3-2015-011

Ratchet and Clank does it’s best to keep elements that weren’t introduced until its sequels present in this retelling. For example Ratchets, grappling hook is no longer an item purchased from gadgetron vendors as it was in the original but takes a note from Going Commando and is merely present from the start.

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The story is at its heart, a retelling of the first game. Framed through the eyes of an imprisoned Captain Quark. While this gives us an unreliable narrator at times, it provides a fun levity to the story. The game sets up the new characters for the film while never feeling like it sacrifices the charm of the original game to shoehorn in these new elements. The jokes are fast paced and even had me laughing out loud at times, something no game has done in a long time.

Ratchet and Clank is exactly what a remake should be. It makes you feel nostalgia for 2004’s Ratchet and Clank all while being something all its own. The game finds a balance with humor and while it retreads original story beats.I found myself pouring hours in during my first few days with the game. The way things are looking a second play through is bound to happen. I hope with games like Ratchet and Clank making such a splash, as well as games like Yooka-Laylee on the horizon.That 2016 sees a resurgence in the long lost mascot platformer genre.

Score:8 out of 10

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