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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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Twas the night before Switchmas

As I am writing this, I just got back from an excursion to my local Gamestop to check out their midnight launch for the Nintendo Switch. I pre-ordered the Switch on Amazon, so I can look forward to it in the morning. I did, however, neglect to pre-order a pro controller and thought I’d take my chances with the crowd.

Much to my surprise not only was I able to get my hands on a controller but they had plenty of Switches available for walk-in customers. A friend who was with me for the same reason was even offered a Switch mistakenly as he was being rung up.

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That’s about a fifth of the line outside my local Best Buy

 

Maybe my little local Gamestop was overstocked, or maybe we really won’t see another console shortage from Nintendo. It looked like another story when I drove by my local Best Buy to see the line, good luck to those folks.

At any rate, I can’t wait to share my thoughts on the Switch and good luck to those attempting to get their hands on one.

 

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News

Nintendo Switch will have no Virtual Console at launch

While disappointed I can’t say I’m surprised, the Virtual Console will not be live when the Nintendo Switch launches on March 3rd.

“Virtual Console games will not be available on Nintendo Switch at launch, we will share more information in the future.” Said Nintendo in a press release earlier today.download

It really is a shame, I was hopeful that the vast number of classic titles available on the Wii U VC could help fill the light offerings of the Switch launch, but I suppose we’ll just have to hope Nintendo gets things together sooner rather than later.

Nintendo made a few smaller announcements in the same release. Shovel Knight and Fast RMX will launch on March 3rd with the Switch. They also noted that you’ll  be able to transfer funds from one Nintendo device to another once your Switch is linked up with your Nintendo account and all that. I’m sure that’ll be absurdly confusing.

 

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Review

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: Pokémon Sun and Moon

Game: Pokémon Sun and Moon

Developer: Game Freak

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Release Date: November 18th, 2016

MSRP: $39.99

Can you remember that day? When you first plugged in that red or blue cartridge into your Gameboy? It was your first Pokémon experience, and it would pave the way for hundreds of hours of fun with these little pocket monster RPG’s. The latest installment in the series is once again eating up all of my time; maybe I’ll even fill out that Pokédex like little me always dreamed of.

Full disclosure upfront, I based my review in its entirety on my experience with moon version. The only differences between the two games are certain exclusive Pokémon as well as an entirely reversed day and night cycle in Moon. I got most of my playing done in the late evening, so it was nice to see the light of day.pokemon_sun_3ds_screenshots_3

So, I’ll just come out and say it before we get into the nitty-gritty, this game is good, like really good. With Sun and Moon Pokémon finally had the courage to get the game out of its comfort zone and formula. Gone are gym leaders and badges, in their stead we have Trial Captains and Island Kahunas. On top of the shake-ups to the basic Pokémon formula Sun and Moon also have a far stronger narrative than we’ve seen from the series in the past. For the first time, the game even opens with a scene featuring another character rather than opening in our protagonist’s room.

So let’s talk about the Alola trials. Pokémon Sun and Moon takes place in the Alola Region, which serves as a sort of analog for the Hawaiian islands. In this new tropical locale, there are no Pokémon Gyms, or Pokémon League to speak of, instead of the League challenge, when Alolan kids come of age the depart on the Island Trials.images

Each of the four islands is home to a number of Trial Captains, each of the captains trains up a super strong Pokémon known as a Totem Pokémon. Your trials consist of a challenge unique to the captain, defeating three of a particular type of Pokémon for example, or spotting the difference in two images. The trial captains will gift you Z-crystals for defeating them, which can be used to bring out ultra powerful moves in a Pokémon once per battle if they know a move that corresponds with that crystals type. Once a player has defeated all the captains on any given island, he or she can continue to face that islands Kahuna. Think of the Kahuna as the big gym battle for each of the four islands. Though it might be hard to repeat this same game formula again, I hope Game Freak keeps shaking up the series with new ideas like this.

The game’s narrative also is noticeably stronger than past Pokémon games. It took me a whopping thirty hours to reach the end which makes the game noticeably bigger than entries like Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire which can be beaten in around 12 hours. Sun and Moon feature likable more developed characters, plot twists that are somewhat obvious but still shake traditional Pokémon plots on their heads, and call backs to past games that had my nostalgia mines working overtime.

Sun and Moon look pretty as Pokémon games go. X and Y were a big step up visually for the series, and the trend is continued here. If rumors of a third game launching next year on the Switch are right, let’s hope it looks even more impressive. I want a Pokémon game on my Tv in all its glory. pokemon-sun-moon-marowak-alola-form

The design of the new monsters is nothing to write home about but the redesigns of classic Pokémon like Sandshrew and Geodude are exciting for experienced players. “Hey, they took my pal Geoudude and gave him a mustache, that’s ok.”

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Hold me you big lug

 

The most significant benefits here are some basic quality of life improvements. Pokémon caught in the wild no longer get automatically whisked off to your PC. Instead, you’re given the option to swap them into your party right away. The biggest change, however, is the elimination of HM’s. That’s right, Hidden Machines no longer exist, no longer must a slave Pokémon fill up space in your party only to cut down trees and fly you across the map. Instead, players are given the ride pager, as the game progresses you’ll register Pokémon like Charizard to fly you around and Tarous to smash boulders in your path. Although you can’t use them in battle, they’ll be there at a moments notice to handle all of that grunt work.

With this last installment, Pokémon is to put it simply evolving. Sun and Moon aren’t perfect games, but they are pretty damn good and make an excellent template for future games. I’ve grown up with these games, and it’s nice to see them maturing and heading in a new direction. So let’s hope Nintendo and Game Freaks next outing is as innovative and exciting. Just please Game Freak let me turn off these tutorials. I’ve been playing these games for twenty years.

Score: 9 out 10

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