Video Game Reviews

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I gotta fly a balloon, AND keep this rich snob happy?!?

80 Days
Inkle Studios
Reviewed on: iOS (Exclusive)
Street: 07.31
Inkle is no stranger to text-based adventures, but 80 Days feels as fresh as it is unique. When your master approaches you to travel around the globe due to a gentleman’s bet, the game is simply afoot. Navigating through a twisted web of potential experiences all chosen by you. The game is affected by every little thing from the items you buy in town shops to the way you interact with other passengers on your various methods of transportation. The game is not only light-hearted and exciting, but is also uniquely challenging as you try to balance your master’s comfort and well-being vs. the cost of travelling on more leisurely exploits. You can also play through the adventure multiple times and not experience the same item twice. This game is perfect for anyone looking for a light-hearted narrative and an astounding adventure. –Thomas Winkley

Blackwell Episode 1: Legacy; Episode 2: Unbound
Wadjet Eye Games
Played on: iOS
Also on: PC
Street Date: 7.9.14
Some think point-and-click adventures are dead—and with a bevy of cheaply produced, insanely repetitive titles saturating the App Store, it would appear they’re right. Enter Wadjet Eye’s iOS port of Blackwell, the pixelated, episodic PC adventure series about freelance writer and medium Rosangela Blackwell trying to help lost souls “move on.” Forget inane item-hunting and goofy, pointless stories: Blackwell is puzzle-based, centered around clues found talking to people or exploring areas to learn about the deceased. It’s endlessly satisfying, thanks to little touches like a clue notebook that allows players to attempt to connect various bits of information together. Even more awesome is Rosa, the kind of three-dimensional female protagonist we don’t see often enough in games —which also applies to her aunt Laura, the star of “Unbound,” a prequel to “Legacy” and the other three episodes in the series, the last two of which remain unreleased on iOS. Regardless, the first two episodes are great showcases for the game’s combination of story, challenge, and aesthetics, they are welcome additions to the often-barren landscape of modern point-and-click games. –Randy Dankievitch

Blood Bowl
Cyanide Games/ Focus Home Interactive
Reviewed on: iOS
Also on: PC, Android
Street: 07.31
Mobile games are always a sensitive topic to review, since the title has so much potential to be limited by power, interface or pay walls. Blood Bowl, however, overcomes every one of these obstacles while creating an interesting tactical football game, based on team building, placement and dice rolls. Anytime a player on the field finds himself near an opponent there is a dice roll, catching a ball requires a dice roll, throwing a pass a–dice roll, and so on. It’s essentially if Tecmo Bowl was powered by D&D style dice rolls and tackling could result in death or a stunned lineman. Buffing your team with an apothecary, cheerleaders or additional assistant coaches aims to increase the chances against the other team, but it is still possible to simply lose to the dice. This is a great pick-up to spend some time practicing for fantasy football—it won’t help with your Yahoo! league, but you’ll be great at the stat sheets. –Thomas Winkley

Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition
Blizzard Entertainment
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also On: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PC
Street: 08.19.2014
I played through the campaign on Diablo III twice on my Xbox 360. It was one of the best games on last gen. So when I got my hands on the Xbox One version, with the promise of new content, some gameplay tweaks and updated visuals, I was pumped to enter the world of Sanctuary and pummel its ungodly inhabitants once more. In every way possible, Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition outshines its predecessor. In a world where it’s sometimes hard to justify a $60 price tag for a game, this feels like a borderline steal. The amount of content and replay value packed in (six player classes to choose from, each with a completely different experience attached to them, on top of a stack of game modes and difficulties) is a full departure from today’s norm of DLC and in-game purchases. To be fair, this is like the 30th time Blizzard has released this game. The biggest draw to DIII: UEE is its marriage of local and online co-op—which allows players to jump in and jump out, whether locally or online, without any hiccups. This is a must-buy, even if you bought the other 29 versions. –Blake Leszczynski

Halfway
Robotality/Chucklefish
Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)
Street: 07.22
Halfway takes the nostalgia of MicroProse’s original X-COM: UFO Defense and cranks it up to 11 with healthy doses of atmospheric horror and tight storytelling. The game puts the player in control of a soldier on the spaceship Goliath. After what appears to be a ship malfunction, he sets out to find and rally any survivors to see if they can figure out what went wrong. As it turns out, whatever caused the ship to malfunction also caused an outbreak of zombified crewmembers. The top-down perspective and 16-bit graphics are a nice throwback to a bygone era, and the developers have done an excellent job of establishing a solitary, menacing tone—I kept thinking of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Combat is turn-based, and aspects like cover and action points are vital to the team’s survival. Unlike the X-COM games, squadmates don’t die for good when they’re dropped to zero hit points. This made sense—it would be hard to continue a character-driven narrative if your characters could potentially suffer permadeath—but without the threat of losing a squadmate hanging over the player’s head, a wee bit of the piss is missing from traditional turn-based gameplay. –Alex Springer

iOOTP Baseball 2014 Edition
Out of the Park Developments
Reviewed on: iOS
Street: 04.16
Simply put, iOOTP is the little brother to Out of the Park Developments’ signature desktop baseball simulation series, a hand held counterpart that is as deep and rewarding as its sibling, even with some small sacrifices made to the game’s UI and spot-on simulation engine. Their latest version, iOOTP Baseball 2014, only moves the two versions of the game closer together: With a much-improved, revamped UI and the ability to edit any player in the game, iOOTP continues to impress with its yearly improvements, above and under the hood. The new UI is worth the $5 price tag alone: although there  are still times where the game gets menu-heavy, the flatter, simplified menu design does wonders for making information and statistics easier to analyze, in turn engaging players in a smoother, more immersive experience. In other words, iOOTP 14 is a game any hardcore baseball fan should own, even those wary of the game’s complexity—you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more exciting, rewarding sports sim on the mobile market. –Randy Dankievitch

Madden NFL 15
EA Tiburon/EA Sports
Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Street: 08.26
Madden used to be a yearly automatic buy. Over the last few years, the series seems to have lost its shine. Maybe it’s a lack of new features, or maybe, because I’ve become such a massive fan of a different football, the NFL just doesn’t interest me that much anymore. Madden 15 is the first Madden, for probably four years, that has made me fall back in love with the series. EA Tiburon has gone back to the drawing board and released one of the series’ very best. Some notable improvements include a complete overhaul of defensive mechanics. Things like a safe tackle cone and timing prompts make it possible to enjoy and excel at defending. The leap in visuals and presentation, even over last year’s version, are also very noticeable. That said, this is still Madden, so if you weren’t hooked before, you won’t be now. The biggest improvement, however, comes in Madden Ultimate Team, or MUT. The trading card mode has received a much-needed facelift, from the way teams are managed to the way cards are traded, and is now insanely addictive and fun. Overall, Madden 15 is a big step in the right direction. –Blake Leszczynski

Minecraft: Xbox One Edition
Mojang/ Microsoft
Reviewed on: Xbox One (Exclusive)
Street: 09.05
In an age which has seen companies like Activision and Ubisoft pour tens of millions of dollars into writers, FX teams and voice actors, an age where major video game production budgets can easily be confused with even the most audacious of Hollywood’s projects, there stands an independently developed game about mining blocks and turning around and building shit with those blocks; a game that gives you an unimaginably massive world and tells you to do whatever the fuck you want with it. It’s Minecraft, and the simplicity in its formula is pure brilliance. Now, with the Xbox One (and PS4) release, the console fans’ experiences will be (almost) like that of the PC Master Race. And by that, I mean worlds are much larger than, say, the Xbox 360 version, as well as some expanded multiplayer features and cloud support. It’s also current-gen shinier, so there’s that. If you owned Minecraft on the 360, this is a must buy, as it’s only $5 to upgrade. For everyone else, Mojang’s blocky creation is a left-brained gamer’s wet dream. It is a brilliant, genre-defining sandbox title that deserves every bit of success it has garnered. –Blake Leszczynski

Oddworld: New ’n’ Tasty
Just Add Water/ Oddworld Inhabitants
Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: Xbox One, Wii U, PS3, PC
Street: 07.22
Oddworld: New ’n’ Tasty takes one of my favorite games from the late ‘90s, Oddworld: Abe’s Odysee, and improves it in every way. New ’n’ Tasty is not just a remaster of the memorable platforming adventure—it is redesigned from scratch. The level design is the same layout as the original game, but the PS4 reboot means gorgeous graphics, easier controls and a new physics engine. If you are a gamer who enjoys going above and beyond, there is still the additional task of rescuing other Mudokons from the corrupt Rupture Farms, which has also received a nice update. You now have the ability to command multiple Mudokons, rather than just one at a time. Lastly, one of the biggest changes New ’n’ Tasty has to offer is the “Quicksave” option, which wasn’t implemented to the series until Abe’s Odysee’s sequel, Abe’s Exodus. Needless to say, this is a more-than-worthy reboot to a great, original platformed classic. –Nate Abbott

The Red Solstice
Ironward
Reviewed on: PC (Exclusive)
Street: 07.10
The Red Solstice drops you on a destroyed planet to fight off rebels, terrifying alien monsters and each other. Controls are pretty basic for a top-down combat game, a right click to move, left click to attack and a slew of weapons with which to do so. While the premise is solid, the execution is a bit rough—being an early release, it is bound to have problems, but the tutorial dropped frames and struggled and finding an online match was tough most times. Once in an online lobby, the game played decently well with occasional lag spikes and a tough learning curve. Once full release is reached, should some of the issues be addressed, this will serve to be a fun, competitive multiplayer game. The world is also set in a dark sci-fi premise that should lend to interesting storytelling. I’m hoping for greatness in the future. –Thomas Winkley

Shovel Knight
Yacht Club Games
Reviewed on: 3DS
Also on: Wii U, PC
Street: 06.26
It’s been a long damn time since I was able to sit down and truly enjoy a side-scrolling platformer. While there is certainly no shortage of new titles in the genre, more recent offerings often feel heartless and formulaic compared to the games I grew up with. Shovel Knight, however, dug its tiny blue shovel into my heart, reminding me of all the times I stayed up all night playing Mega Man or Castlevania. You control a tiny blue knight named Shovel Knight who, true to his name, wields a shovel in the pursuit of “shovel-ry” and justice. The gameplay is tight and challenging, borrowing liberally from a number of its predecessors without ever feeling derivative. Shovel Knight is no mere nostalgia trip, forging a tight emotional bond that feels undoubtedly new. Don’t be surprised if the ending makes you laugh while it puts a tear in your eye—no small thanks to Jake Kaufman, whose masterful soundtrack is the icing on this 8-bit cake. The adventure might only take 4-5 hours for a dedicated player to beat, but its New Game + mode will give you an excuse to play Shovel Knight over and over again! –Henry Glasheen

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment
Bandai Namco Games
Reviewed on: PS Vita
Street: 08.19
Sword Art Online takes the best parts of MMORPGs and merges them into a single-player experience. While the story is nothing incredibly special, the combat and bosses are quite fun.  The character customization gives you a wide range of anime-styled looks and the leveling system not only increases abilities and character strengths, but also your weapon specialties. As you gain more skill points, longer combo strings are available that can end in your special attacks. The combat system is made better by following the suggestions from your teammate. Unfortunately, many of the mobs die before you can follow their command. The best part is  by far the raid bosses at the end of each level. While the story is cliché at best and nominally motivating, the quest system and combat system are really what make this shine.  –Thomas Winkley

Tales of Xillia 2
Bandai Namco Games
Reviewed on: PS3 (exclusive)
Street: 08.19
Tales of Xillia 2 is a beautiful RPG that takes place a year after the first Xillia game in the gorgeous but dying world of Elympios. Xillia 2 follows Ludger Kresnik, who is having one hell of a day—he finds out his brother could be evil and he ends up with an outrageous loan, which you spend a good chunk of your time paying off by doing go-for quests. You spend the rest of your time hunting down your brother to clear his name and yours. You only use a percentage of the combat system when you’re fighting normal monsters, so it gets a little tedious. During the longer battles, though, combat is interesting and dynamic—you can change the partners you link up with and weapons in battle in real time. The conversation choices are a bit jarring when they pop up, which, in turn, takes you out of the conversation you just started. You also have minions of a sort in this game—kitty minions! You collect cats for the craziest cat lady of them all throughout the game, and you can send them out to collect items for you. It’s a random but adorable addition to this decent RPG sequel. –Ashley Lippert

The Walking Dead Season Two Episode Four: Amid The Ruins
TellTale Games
Reviewed on: PC
Also on: Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, iOS
Street: 07.22
Telltale Games has set out to completely destroy your faith in humanity with the latest installment of The Walking Dead. Amid the Ruins puts the group in touch with new danger, other groups and of course their greatest enemy–themselves. Trying to recover from the horrors caused by Carver and the escape from his camp this episode drags you through the beginning of the group’s splintering and into a colossally stressful ending.  Following their usual suit there really is no right choice, and while this episode is not quite as enthralling as its predecessors, it is necessary to build up to the final episode. This may not be your favorite portion of Season Two, but it is by far the most necessary. I guess it’s only a matter of time before we discover what kind of monster Clem has become. –Thomas Winkley

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode Five – No Going Back
Telltale Games
Reviewed on: PC
Also on: PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, iOS, Android, Xbox One, Ouya
Street: 08.26
The final chapter in Season 2 of The Walking Dead game brings forth something not normal to gaming. The game mechanics have not changed since the original season, and almost every game in the Telltale arsenal plays the same. Yet the soundtrack, visuals and story are so on point that the game is completely enthralling and, to its very core, depressing. Choices are missed, such as when Kenny bares his soul to the player about his struggles since losing his family, and the player stares silently instead of responding, simply because the gamer is so engaged in the story unfolding in front of them. This led to my version of Clementine coming off as cold and disinterested, when really, the player was bewildered and crushed. The theme that there is no hope in the zombie apocalypse is very much a factor, not because of the zombies, but because of the brutal truths of self-preservation. No matter which ending you find yourself tied to, it is a common theme that no matter whom you are with, you are still very much alone—good luck. –Thomas Winkley

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