Cruiser XB210 Review

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Gaming headphones need to accomplish two main things: audio quality and comfort. But with so much competition on the market, superior audio performance isn’t always enough. Hoping to offer gamers a unique niche feature, newly founded manufacturer GamesterGear designed a headset with a powerful rumble effect that creates tangible audio feedback while gaming. While lacking in build quality, the Cruiser XB210 boasts a powerful punch, both in its impressive rumble ear cushions and explosive bass. The lack of equalizer settings may be a turn-off for some gamers, but the Cruiser’s low asking price of $69.99 (at the time of this review) is an attractive incentive for such solid audio performance.

The Cruiser XB210 is primarily an Xbox 360 headset, but also works with Xbox One with the appropriate adapter. Installation is similar to other last-gen headsets with red/white audio inputs connecting to the TV, and a USB going straight into the console. Gamers wanting to use the detachable mic also need to connect the voice chat cable between the Xbox 360 controller and the XB210 dongle. The dongle is used for controlling volume, chat and bass levels, and includes a nifty clip that can be fastened to players’ pants or shirt for easy access.


"While lacking in build quality, the Cruiser XB210 boasts a powerful punch, both in its impressive rumble ear cushions and explosive bass."

Despite lacking equalizer settings and surround sound features commonly seen in today’s gaming headphones, the Cruiser XB210 is expertly calibrated and provides excellent sound across varying frequencies. The balance between small environmental details and thunderous explosions is excellent, and the added rumble effect gives FPS games a sense of tactility without inducing headaches. For a stereo set, the sound directionality is fantastic and there are times when the audio depth even rivals virtual surround of higher-end models. 

The rumble effect may seem like a gimmick, but it’s surprisingly effective. Sensing the vibrations of a crumbling building in Battlefield adds a layer of dimensionality and thrill. The heightened environmental awareness is a valuable perk when playing competitively, allowing players to analyze incoming enemies with greater precision. The auditory accuracy highlights echoing sounds flawlessly, allowing players to differentiate between enemies running through buildings or someone approaching from behind. The Cruiser’s detachable mic performs equally well, although it tends to pick up surrounding noises too much. 



"The Cruiser XB210 is a superb headset for gamers jumping back and worth between old and new consoles."

The Cruiser is remarkably comfortable and the cushioned ear cups do a great job of preventing heat generation. The leathery strap on the headband is a nice touch too, supplying further coziness for long gaming sessions. On the down side, the overall build quality is underwhelming. The plastic is cheap and the ear cups are attached rather loosely, making the entire headset feel wobbly. It’s odd that GamesterGear hasn’t invested in better materials, considering how much effort went into fine tuning the sound. Maybe it’s to keep the costs down, but if GamesterGear hopes to compete with the likes of Turtle Beach and SteelSeries, a little extra sturdiness can go a long way. 

The Cruiser XB210 is a superb headset for gamers jumping back and worth between old and new consoles. The audio performs beautifully for such an affordable peripheral and the rumble effect feature is more than just a gimmick. With a little better build quality and more customization options, GamesterGear has potential to be the next big name in the gaming headphone industry. At only seventy bucks, the Cruiser is a steal and definitely worth picking up for anyone curious about GamesterGear’s new rumble effect technology.  

Review by: Tin Salamunic

B
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Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 Review

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Fifa vs PES. It’s a yearly debate that keeps fans arguing in circles. If sales figures are an indicator of success, then Fifa is undoubtedly the superior franchise. But the reality is a little more complicated. Fifa has always been a franchise geared towards the masses, while PES reigned as champion for Soccer connoisseurs. At least that’s been the scenario over the past few years. Hoping to reach a wider audience, Konami made subtle tweaks in last year’s entry, most of which unfortunately hurt the overall experience. Gameplay dynamics and mechanics were sacrificed for greater detail, stripping PES of its realism and fluidity. With Pro Evolution Soccer 2015, Konami has found the perfect balance between accessibility and authenticity. While Fifa still holds the graphical edge, PES 2015’s gameplay has finally dominated EA’s franchise with the most realistic representation of the sport to date.

The new Fox Engine has done wonders for the PES franchise. While last year’s release suffered from frustrating frame rate drops, PES 2015 is buttery smooth during both gameplay and replays. The smoothness further translates to character animations and ball physics. Players’ weight and the ball’s momentum are felt with every kick and dribble, giving players unprecedented control on the field. PES 2015 may not be technically groundbreaking, but its stability is a notable step up from last year’s messy performance.


"While Fifa still holds the graphical edge, PES 2015’s gameplay has finally dominated EA’s franchise with the most realistic representation of the sport to date."

In terms of lighting, player likenesses and clothing dynamics, Fifa still comes up on top. There’s a certain richness in texture and color that PES hasn’t managed to replicate. Having said that, PES 2015 is still a beautiful looking game. Each stadium radiates with detailed crowds that respond to every action on the field, and the lifelike animations make each replay appear like a clip straight from a television match. The polished presentation extends further to the menu designs. Gone are the dull menus of PES 2014. All options are presented with a sleek metro aesthetic and cinematic player clips in backgrounds. EA’s Fifa remains visually superior, but PES is catching up quickly.

On the field, however, PES 2015 crushes its competition. The controls are snappier and tighter, resulting in precise player-switching. Increased responsiveness means instinctive reflexes are rewarded with faster reactions from the athletes. More emphasis has been placed on player individuality, making teams feel diverse. It’s exciting to see players react differently to things like aggressive tackles and fouls. The smarter AI puts up a serious challenge, even at normal difficulty. The enemy team responds to player mistakes realistically, although there are a few occasions where AI inconsistency breaks immersion by ignoring a rolling ball or direct pass.


"PES 2015 has improved every gameplay mode with new features and refinements, making this year’s entry the most complete soccer experience to date."

The newly introduced Role Control gives multiplayer matches stability. The feature allows players to divide roles between them, like midfield, attacking and defensive, making fast-paced matches less chaotic. By governing their own area, players can coordinate cooperative plays efficiently. Most importantly, new measures have been introduced to lessen online cheating, something that’s been a major issue in the past.

PES 2015 has improved every gameplay mode with new features and refinements, making this year’s entry the most complete soccer experience to date. Considering EA’s stagnancy the last few years, it’s going to take a lot of innovation and gameplay refining to trump this latest masterpiece. Fifa may still be a prettier package, but it’s the on-field action that matters. When it comes down to realism and authenticity, PES has reclaimed the throne as the definitive soccer champ. With a little visual polish, PES will have no problem holding its sovereignty over the genre for years to come.  

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

9
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Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric Review

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Sega and Nintendo have always butted heads over whose mascot is the platformer king. While Sonic’s frantic speed and chaotic platforming attracted many fans, Mario still reigned over the genre effortlessly for decades. In spite of Nintendo’s triumph, Sonic had some amazing years during the 16-bit era. Unfortunately, the transition to newer consoles lead the blue speedster into a downward spiral. Aside from a handful of decent entries, Sonic has become a shadow of his former self, while Mario still runs laps around the competition. After the horrid Sonic: Lost World, it seemed things couldn’t get any worse for the poor fella. Instead of taking the game’s failure as an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and give Sonic the game he deserves, Sega decided to dig his grave further, while smashing him over the head with a shovel.

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is a catastrophe. It’s a broken, unplayable mess that should have never passed QA testing. It’s outright depressing that Sonic has sunk this low. From the grotesque visuals and unacceptably low frame rate to the badly designed levels and cringe worthy dialogue, Rise of Lyric fails in every imaginable area. Something must have gone terribly wrong during the game’s production, because the end result feels like a messy alpha build. Cutscenes are poorly compressed with artifacts flickering across the screen, the resolution appears below HD, and the jaggies...my god, the anti-aliasing (or rather the lack thereof) is horrid. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is the death of Sonic. This is it. Unless a miracle happens, Sega has now made it impossible to have any faith left in its once-spectacular hedgehog. It’s a sad year for Sonic.


"Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric is a catastrophe. It’s a broken, unplayable mess that should have never passed QA testing."

It’s hard to imagine that Rise of Lyric’s developers, Big Red Button Entertainment, were children once. Because if they were, they wouldn’t treat their audience like complete idiots. Sonic and his dimwitted friends constantly point out the obvious, even while they’re performing the obvious. If there’s a platform meant for jumping, and there are no other interactive objects in the environment, no one needs guidance on how to jump. As if the levels aren’t linear enough, the constant handholding leaves no room for play.

Sonic games have always been about building speed and momentum, so it’s baffling that someone at Sega thought it’d be a good idea to rid Sonic of his signature moves. Rise of Lyric introduces a new twist (twist being used very sarcastically here): exploration and melee combat. Yes, turning Sonic into a generic 3D platformer with button-mashing mechanics is being considered revolutionary. The world is divided into explorable areas, 2D platformer levels and on-rails speed challenges. While each section is completely devoid of creativity, the explorable environments that introduce melee combat are the biggest offenders. The camera is broken and makes platforming in these semi-open areas hellish. The combat is repetitive and consists of brainless button-mashing. The levels are ugly and uninspiring, with a sluggish frame rate that can barely keep up with Sonic’s “walking” speed. Nothing works here and nothing has anything to do with Sonic.


"The most honorable thing Sega can do now is put an end to Sonic. Take off the bandages, put him in a deep slumber and try to honor the little stature left from his heyday."

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric lets players switch between four playable characters, each supposedly equipped with special skills needed to overcome specific obstacles. In reality, all characters play identically and any level could theoretically be played with any character. Sure, Sonic may be faster than Knuckles, and unlocked special glyphs reward each character with enhanced abilities, but the differences are minimal and only disguise the complete lack of gameplay diversity. To further destroy the little dignity Sonic has left, the developers have made changes to the characters’ appearances. Everyone is now wrapped in bandages. Maybe it’s to hide the abuse the characters have undergone during development, or maybe it’s a desperate attempt to look cool. Who knows. Nothing really makes any sense.

Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was developed Big Red Button Entertainment, a fairly new studio founded in 2009 by Naughty Dog’s Bob Rafei. This is the guy who worked on Jak & Daxter, Crash Bandicoot and even the original Uncharted. He’s undeniably talented and certainly knows a thing or two about making games, so it’s even more shocking that the end product is such a travesty. Even with the collaboration of Sonic Team’s legendary Takashi Iizuka, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric somehow feels like it was made by amateurs. The most honorable thing Sega can do now is put an end to Sonic. Take off the bandages, put him in a deep slumber and try to honor the little stature left from his heyday. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Wii U

2
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Grand Theft Auto V HD Review

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There are very few games that rival Grand Theft Auto V’s scope and gameplay diversity. Layered between chaos, social commentary and the psychopathic Trevor, lies an entirely different game. GTA V is both a gangster drama and a virtual excursion through California's colorful landscape. Players can either run around killing mercilessly, robbing grocery stores and beating up random pedestrians, or they can enjoy a bike ride through the countryside and hike across mountains. It’s easy to spend just as much time doing side activities and exploring Rockstar’s stunning world as filling the gangster role. This freedom has always been Grand Theft Auto’s appeal, and with Rockstar’s latest HD upgrade, the experience has never been more exhilarating.

Grand Theft Auto V HD is a prime example of how Rockstar is one of the most creative and dedicated developers in the industry. Calling this a mere HD remake is an understatement. Instead of just boosting resolution, Rockstar included a first person mode that completely changes the gameplay mechanics. GTA V HD may not completely hide its last-gen roots, but it portrays a believable, living and breathing world and is one of the finest sandbox titles in years. Both players who’ve already beaten GTA V and those who missed its original release should pick up GTA V HD in a heartbeat.


"Grand Theft Auto V HD is a prime example of how Rockstar is one of the most creative and dedicated developers in the industry."

When GTA V’s first person screenshots surfaced, it seemed too good to be true. But Rockstar doesn't joke around when it comes to their hallmark franchise. Playing through GTA V in first person mode feels like an entirely new venture. It’s fascinating how a simple change in perspective impacts both gameplay and narrative. Trevor is already uncomfortable to play with in third person, but actually seeing through his eyes is a whole new kind of crazy.

Thousands of new animations have been added to make the new mode more immersive, including driving animations, weapons handling, and of course character movements. The first person mode is reminiscent of the Condemned series, where head bobbing and ragdoll physics create a sense of realism, unlike the super clean movement seen in games like Call of Duty. It takes some time to get used to the wobbliness, and the new mode makes gameplay more challenging. Hectic gunfights and car chases are far more dynamic. Taking cover in first person makes it hard to pinpoint enemies when surrounded. It’s easy to see whether enemies are approaching when squatting in third person, but the new mode encourages players to realistically peek out and analyze the environment. Driving with the new mode is particularly fun. The handling feels more responsive and arcade-like, making street races and cop chases more enjoyable (although shooting when driving in first person is somewhat finicky).


"Trevor is already uncomfortable to play with in third person, but actually seeing through his eyes is a whole new kind of crazy."

The best part is that each mode is completely customizable. Head bobbing and ragdoll physics can be turned off, the field of view can be widened for more visibility, the depth of field effects can be adjusted to appear more or less realistic and independent camera modes can be set to automatically switch between first person and third person depending on whether gamers prefer walking in one mode, and driving in another.

GTA V was an already impressive looking game on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, although several assets affirmed the consoles’ aging hardware. With a higher resolution, sharper textures, increased draw distance, richer level of detail and the new EQAA (Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing) implementation, the HD remake is striking, even photorealistic at times. Walking the streets of Los Santos during sunset, as rain covered streets reflect neon signs of the crowded downtown area, is absolutely breathtaking. Add to that the heavier foot and auto traffic, and GTA V is substantially livelier than the original.


"With a higher resolution, sharper textures, increased draw distance, richer level of detail and the new EQAA implementation, the HD remake is striking, even photorealistic at times."

On the downside, the 30 fps frame rate drops frequently when driving through traffic and there’s notable judder when panning the camera. Better motion blur implementation could potentially iron out the background stutter, but it’s not clear whether a patch could fix the frame rate drops. The gamma setting is still set too high, making most scenes look washed out. Luckily, bumping gamma down by about 30% makes everything look richer with more balanced values. But all of these are small complaints that don’t detract from what is an otherwise gorgeous game. 


"Rockstar has added enough visual upgrades and gameplay tweaks to warrant a second purchase, even for those who feel like they’ve seen everything Los Santos has to offer."

The enhancements extend to GTA Online as well. Previous updates that introduced new weapons and vehicles are all included in the retail release. The character creator has been completely overhauled with over 150 new props. The “heritage” feature is still used to create your base character, but their features can be tweaked further with robust new sliders and accessories. GTA V Online now offers up 30 simultaneous players, which can lead to some spectacular heists and shootouts. Players can now duck while driving, and the added ability to quick throw grenades while aiming makes hectic PVP gunfights particularly explosive. Sadly, the connectivity issues are still a major problem. Despite our fast connection, sessions have been interrupted dozens of times since launch. Hopefully this is something Rockstar can iron out with a future patch.

GTA V was one of last year’s best games, and there are still very few games that offer as much value. Rockstar has added enough visual upgrades and gameplay tweaks to warrant a second purchase, even for those who feel like they’ve seen everything Los Santos has to offer. The first person mode alone is worth a second trip. For everyone else, well, it doesn’t really get better than this. GTA V is a massive adventure with what seems like limitless gameplay value and a fantastic narrative. A must buy!    

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

9.5
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Crossing Souls Reignites Your Inner Child

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Indie games are a dime a dozen, and it’s not all too often that one comes along that gets us this pumped. We’re talking about Fourattic’s Crossing Souls. Taking place in 1986 California, players are greeted with fun, throwback, 1980’s animation, beautiful music and gorgeous pixel art. With the feel of a Saturday morning cartoon, Crossing Souls takes players on an adventure spanning between life and death. When a strange artifact turns up allowing a group of kids to see beyond the barrier of the two worlds, chaos ensues. This action-adventure game pays homage to the ’80’s RPGs that many of us grew up with, while maintaining a modern feel for everyone—meaning it will be available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

While other games may have a similar style, Crossing Souls seems to be in a league of its own. Looking at their Kickstarter page may leave you a little confused as in some places it say it will be released in 2015 while others say 2016. We’re pretty sure that the 2016 might be a typo, but tread softly just in case. Granted the game has only been on Kickstarter for a day, it already looks leaps and bounds ahead of other games that’s we have seen this early in development. So, if you are looking for a pure ’80’s nostalgia rush, Crossings Souls looks like its got you cover.

News by: Mike Ackerman
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Escape Dead Island Review

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Dead Island prides itself in its unapologetic B-Movie vibe. Cringeworthy dialogue, cliche characters and a lack of engaging storytelling don’t typically culminate into a decent game, let alone a good one. However, Dead Island’s mindless, arcade-style gameplay supersedes its trivial zombie outbreak premise. The addictive co-op action and exotic environments make up for the lack of originality and character development. It’s a little odd, then, that developer Fatshark, formerly known for their War of the Roses and War of the Vikings games, would tamper with the series’ mechanics. 

Spin-off or not, shifting from first-person action to third-person stealth adventure seems drastic, even for publisher Deep Silver. The new approach can be periodically entertaining, but it does little for both the genre and Dead Island’s lore. Escape Dead Island is a stealth-based origin story that takes place after the first game. While there’s more emphasis on storytelling (“storytelling” being used very loosely), the action once again takes center stage. Imagine a bratty Sam Fisher stuck on a zombie infested island...you get the idea.


"The new approach can be periodically entertaining, but it does little for both the genre and Dead Island’s lore."

Most of the franchise’s key features are gone. The open world, complex weapon crafting and semi-realistic aesthetics have been replaced by linear storytelling and stylized comic book visuals. It’s a drastic departure, but for a spin-off budget release, Escape Dead Island delivers just enough thrills to warrant a playthrough. The story follows Cliff Calo, a pretentious jerk à la Far Cry 3’s Jason Brody, who sets sail with his friends to document the rumored events on Banoi. After arriving on the Narapela island, part of Banoi’s archipelago, things go awry and he starts questioning his sanity.

Despite being advertised as a mystery adventure, Escape Dead Island doesn’t exactly offer much mystery or adventure. The plot is predictable, the voice acting and writing are laughable and the linearity leaves no room for exploration. And yet, the stealth mechanics and third-person combat are fun, if not great, when everything works. Sneaking up on zombies and stabbing their necks with a screw driver is undeniably satisfying. The problem is that the poor AI and level designs conflict with the gameplay. 


"Sneaking up on zombies and stabbing their necks with a screw driver is undeniably satisfying."

At times, zombies are positioned in such a way that only a frontal assault is possible. They also seem to have better senses than Cliff as they can easily spot him from afar. Only a few strikes result in death. Trying to clear an area with more than five zombies without being detected is frustrating, and feels like a cheap way of spiking difficulty. Once detected, Cliff can fight back with his secondary weapon or use a pistol if enough ammo is available. Swinging around with an axe or bat is a blast. Once downed, Zombies can be finished off with a brutal special finisher, although the finisher-animation leaves Cliff vulnerable to attacks. Firearms are most powerful against tougher creatures like mini-bosses, but ammo is scarce and switching between weapons is slow and sluggish. 

Equipped with a camera, Cliff can take pictures of various objects in the environment. Some photos reveal further details about the island and its inhabitants, while others serve as mere collectibles. There are tape recordings and letters scattered all over the island too. They offer glimpses into what might have happened before the outbreak, but since the actual story is so weak, they’re not worth seeking out.   


"Escape Dead Island isn’t a bad game, it’s just an extremely average one. The gameplay is safe, at worst, and emphasizing storytelling in Dead Island isn’t something fans ever asked for."

The comic book aesthetics are a nice touch, but the stiff animations nearly ruin the overall visuals. Characters move like ragdolls, and the lip-syncing is practically nonexistent. The still illustrations, which serve as the game’s cutscenes, are far more impressive. There’s more life depicted in these drawings than in the awkwardly rendered models. There’s little environmental variety too. Considering that half the game consists of annoying backtracking, the scope of the island feels incredibly small.

Escape Dead Island isn’t a bad game, it’s just an extremely average one. The gameplay is safe, at worst, and emphasizing storytelling in Dead Island isn’t something fans ever asked for. In fact, Escape Dead Island may be hugely disappointing for anyone who expects the same thrills from the original Dead Island. With a relatively low asking price and some occasionally fun combat, gamers can do a lot worse...as long as expectations are kept in check.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

6.5
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Halo: The Master Chief Collection Review

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Halo. There aren’t many franchises that debuted on the original Xbox, or any console aside from Nintendo, that still tote such an incredible fan base. When the original Halo: Combat Evolved released in November of 2001 it was the very definition of a “console seller”. Its stellar graphics, intriguing world, and special multiplayer was just what the gaming industry needed to prove that first-person shooters were viable on consoles in the modern world. Sure, titles like Goldeneye, Turok and Perfect Dark thrived under the reign of the previous generation, but Halo showed the future of where console FPS’ would go. Halo went on to spawn a franchise of epic proportions, seeing multiple titles released throughout its extensive life cycle, most of them just as special and well-received as the original release. Fast-forward 13 years and we have what many Halo fans would consider to be the holy grail of the game’s legacy, the Master Chief Collection. Over a decade of love, devotion, and memories are all crammed onto one convenient disc, a thought that I still find absolutely astounding.

It’s difficult to review a release like this, especially when there’s such a striking disparity between the way the included titles look and play. Halo 2 is obviously the standout in the collection given the special care that has been taken to re-master it, but each of the individual titles still hold sway and the most recent release, Halo 4, feels right at home visually on the Xbox One. I must applaud 343 Studios for their utter attention to detail. Their tireless efforts have created one of the most special collections ever released in the history of gaming. The content is nothing short of marvelous, but the release is marred by one unacceptable factor: completely broken multiplayer. In the interest of full disclosure I have to say that this review was postponed several times during the past week in an effort to give 343 a chance to repair their servers, but a week has passed and matchmaking has only improved slightly at best. 


"In the interest of full disclosure I have to say that this review was postponed several times during the past week in an effort to give 343 a chance to repair their servers, but a week has passed and matchmaking has only improved slightly at best."

Games still take way too long to find, players are still dropped from lobbies, and teams are still uneven. Given the fact that the Halo franchise has never once been marred by multiplayer issues like these it’s surprising to see that this collection, one marketed more as an event than a collection, could suffer from such a lack of foresight. In 343’s defense, they’ve been very transparent about the issues and have accepted full responsibility, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that the fans, the early adopters, the people that cherish their memories of countless hours spent fragging online opponents are victims of the hype.

Let’s begin with what actually works, the campaigns. Rather than analyze each title in the collection I’m going to instead focus solely on Halo 2. People that have played Halo Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4 know what to expect from the Master Chief Collection. They’re still a blast to play, they’ve been uprezzed, fluidly streaming at a crystal clear 60 frames per second. Halo 2 is a different beast though, and one deserving of critical analysis. The enhancements made on a visual level are absolutely outstanding, in fact it’s one of the few titles in recent memory whose gameplay footage displayed at events is just as beautiful when played at home. Let me make it clear: there are no vertical slices to be found here. What was shown is what you’ll get the second you boot it up. Textures have been completely redone, lighting has been enhanced, and the cinematics – my god, the cinematics – have been totally overhauled. 


"Textures have been completely redone, lighting has been enhanced, and the cinematics – my god, the cinematics – have been totally overhauled."

343 hasn’t just catered towards fan service, they’ve completely revamped the entirety of Halo 2’s single-player experience, making it feel new and fresh once again. All the hidden goodies still exist. Skulls, terminals, and more are lying in wait to be found at your leisure, making the replay value immense. The inclusion of campaign playlists are also a unique and gratifying way to play isolated parts of the campaign, not just from Halo 2, but all the titles, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the longevity of these playlists through co-op. My one gripe with the single-player experience is the idea of placing the Terminal cut scenes in a separate app on the Xbox One dashboard. 

Every time I wanted to watch a terminal video I was immediately yanked out of the game’s stellar sense of immersion and forced to watch as my Xbox One dashboard swapped screens and loaded a separate app to play the video. I appreciate what 343 tried to accomplish there, but I personally feel it’s more of a hindrance, a deterrent that immediately made me never want to use another terminal again. That could change with successive play-throughs, but it was a jarring experience that clashed directly with Halo 2’s new, more cinematic presentation. Fans of the Halo franchise know that controls have evolved throughout its lifetime. 343’s solution has been to add a list of universal controls, one of the many helpful and complex menu options that really help players tailor the collection to their needs. There’s more than just a handful of layouts, too, and though some of them felt foreign at first I quickly found one that suited my needs and fell in love with it, so don’t let the fear of constant button swapping between titles haunt you, it’s a smooth experience through-and-through.


"Let me ask you this: why is it acceptable to wait a week for a product that you and I paid full price for to work as intended? The answer is: it’s not."

Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a bargain, there’s no doubt about it. Even at full price its immense value potential is unprecedented, but given that multiplayer is just as important to the Halo experience as the painstakingly recreated campaigns, it saddens me to say that as of right now I can’t recommend it. It’s fun, there’s no doubt about that, and ultimately I’m sure it will be fixed, but given that this new generation of games has been plagued with launch problems (Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Driveclub, Battlefield 4… the list goes on) I can’t help but notice a worrying trend. It may not be fair to bring this up in a review for one particular game, but I almost feel as if I must considering the string of screw-ups that have emerged in the past year. 

Where’s the incentive to pick these titles up day one if they’re not patched until after the fact? Now, before you say “they’re planning to patch the servers on Wednesday” let me ask you this: why is it acceptable to wait a week for a product that you and I paid full price for to work as intended? The answer is: it’s not. Personally, I’m getting sick of nonsense like this tainting what otherwise would have been a near perfect experience, and unfortunately Halo doesn’t get a free pass just because of my affinity for special spartan branded with the number 117.  

Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: Xbox One

7
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LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham Review

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With each new release, developer Traveller’s Tales takes small, yet progressive, steps to flesh out its perpetually expanding LEGO universe. Like the Dynasty Warriors franchise, most changes seem minimal, oftentimes even illegible, but the continually refined mechanics never cease to entertain. One of the series’ most notable additions was Traveller’s Tales’ foray into sandbox-style gaming with Lego Batman 2 in 2012. The open city significantly expanded replayability and gave the charming little figurines new life. With its breathtaking open world and stupendous amount of content, this year’s LEGO The Hobbit was the developer’s most crowning achievement. 

So it comes as a surprise that Traveller’s Tales has nixed one if its biggest features. While the lovable humor and addictive gameplay remain unchanged, the return to more linear level designs is a step backwards. Batman’s new interplanetary adventure sounds great on paper, but ends up feeling smaller in scope despite its far-reaching setting. The semi-open, explorable segments in space aren’t bad, but they can’t compete with Traveller’s Tales’ profound recreation of Gotham in Batman 2. But despite the linearity and lack of breadth, this is still a LEGO game, and everything that makes LEGOs great, still presides.


"But despite the linearity and lack of breadth, this is still a LEGO game, and everything that makes LEGOs great, still presides."

It’s somewhat of a mystery as to why Traveller’s Tales decided to call this their next Batman game. LEGO Justice League may have been a more appropriate title. While the narrative loosely revolves around the caped crusader, many (if not most) levels are played with other characters from DC’s universe. That’s not a complaint by any means. In fact, character variety is what makes the playthrough so exciting. Batman 2 already introduced several playable DC characters, but with the setting shifting to outer space and other Justice League members getting more screen time, this would have been a fantastic opportunity to officially introduce the JLA label.      

Confusing titling aside, Traveller’s Tales continues to impress with their storytelling abilities and sense of humor. LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham boasts an engaging narrative that unites both DC villains and heroes in their quest to take down Brainiac, all while enveloped in silly puns and pop culture references. Switching between Batman and Joker on the fly is a blast, and there are enough plot twists and hilarious one-liners to keep the venture entertaining throughout. 


"Switching between Batman and Joker on the fly is a blast, and there are enough plot twists and hilarious one-liners to keep the venture entertaining throughout."

LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham doesn’t break the tried-and-true gameplay formula, but it’s not trying to either. LEGO games revolve around two main things: destroying LEGO objects and solving puzzles. It’s simple, it’s silly and it’s undeniably fun. As far as character selection goes, the developer has included a whopping 150 playable figurines. Let that sink in for a moment. To sweeten the deal, they’ve added unlockable classic 60’s outfits for the most popular characters. No one can say the LEGO games lack value. 

Batman 2 introduced special suits required for solving puzzles and performing special attacks, and Batman 3 takes the concept even further. Nearly every character is equippable with a variety of outfits that significantly impact their skills and powers. Characters like Cyborg and Martian Manhunter can transform into Hulk-sized monstrosities that can destroy everything in their path. Suits can be accessed on the fly with the radial menu, and some require regular recharging to work. They are a great way to keep the action fresh from start to finish. There are also several new mini-games, or rather gameplay diversions, like an entire section paying homage to the popular shooter Resogun. Moments like these are both unexpected and exhilarating.


"Nearly every character is equippable with a variety of outfits that significantly impact their skills and powers."

Since Batman 3 takes place in outer space, an open world environment that's packed with details like in the past few entries isn’t possible. Instead, there are explorable hub-worlds, which are significantly smaller but offer more aesthetic variety. In a way, there are more visual surprises when jumping between planets. A later level, for example, is reminiscent of the Mario Galaxy games in that it’s comprised of spherical shapes that allow characters to approach their enemies from various angles. The variety is certainly welcoming, although it can’t trump the sense of exploration found in previous entries.  

The advantage of a more linear structure is having extra horsepower for graphical details. Traveller’s Tales has never been conservative when it comes to cramming levels with destructible objects and impressive set pieces, and LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham impresses from the very first opening level. The game is breathtaking. Improved lighting, cleaner edges, sharper textures, smoother animations, Batman 3 is undoubtedly the most stunning LEGO game to date.  

It’s hard to fault Traveller’s Tales for trying something different, although removing one of their most dynamic additions to the franchise is disappointing. And yet, LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is an absolute blast to play. LEGO games have more heart and personality than most AAA releases could ever accomplish, and the addictive gameplay makes TT’s latest adventure an easy recommendation. LEGO Batman 3 may not be the sequel fans were hoping for, but it’s still a splendid addition to the LEGO universe. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

8
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The Wayback Bundle is here!

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So you logged in to play World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor, today and realized that some servers have a queue time of over two hours. What are you going to do with all that time? We’ve got you covered. Bundle Star has just released a new bundle called the Wayback Bundle. You get seven retro games that all span different genres. So whether you want to pilot an apache helicopter in Gunship! or control your troops in the RTS 7th Legion, you certainly have a good variety. They even through a FPS in the form of Shadow Ops: Red Murcery. The best part? The bundle can be yours for only $3.99. That’s right, seven Steam games for less than four bucks.

If you’re playing on Linux or Mac they’ve got you covered there two, as three of the games are available on all three systems (PC/Mac/Linux). So what are you waiting for? Forget those queue times and get some into some retro gaming action. You might even forget why you logged into your computer in the first place.

News by: Mike Ackerman
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Lyteshot Live Action Gaming

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It seems that many game developers have tried to get into the kinetic game market in recent years, in one way or another. And it seems as though every once in a while a new indie developer attempts to emerge and try to take a piece of the pie—as meager as it usually is. Lyteshot, however, is aiming for so much more.

Lyteshot is a new indie software system that let’s gamers use their cellphones to play real life action games; whether it be a friendly game of capture the flag or a more vicious game of “assassin.” Being open source, Lyteshot gives developers the ability to make cross-platform compatible games for both iOS and Android. Developers will even have the option whether or not they wish to incorporate Lyteshot’s peripherals into their games as well. Right now, Lyteshot’s peripheral looks almost like a small taser. However, instead of electrocuting someone, the end can be equipped with different plastic attachments; such as an assassin’s blade. What’s great is that other developers or even players can create their own attachments using a 3D printer.


The idea seems very developed but the project is in its very early stages. With a Kickstarter being planned for spring 2015, there’s the possibility that Lyteshot could gain some real traction between now and then. And while many developers heading down a similar road may have gotten lost and were never heard from again, Lyteshot’s open source approach might just be the magic ingredient it needs to be successful. Only time will tell at this point, but this may be one project to keep an eye on over the next couple of months.

News by: Mike Ackerman
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Senran Kagura Bon Appetit Review

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When Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus arrived I picked it up… skeptically. In spite of my wife’s scoffing grumbles, I found myself enjoying the game so I was looking forward to the latest entry. Fan service aside, Senran Kagura has proven itself to be a worthy series full of guilty pleasures, that’s why it’s such a shame to see that the latest cooking spin-off, Bon Appetit is such a letdown. The simple rhythm game does pose challenging at first, but within a few hours you’ll master all you’ve needed to crush your opponents in cooking combat.

Yes, that’s right, Senran Kagura Bon Appetit is a rhythm game, so people expecting this iteration to be anything like the previous Vita title can abandon those hopes. The game’s story follows the girls of Senran Kagura as they proceed to engage in cooking battles with their respective rivals, losing their clothes in the process. This kitschy cooking game starts off rather fun, and learning to master the game’s rhythm system can be quite a challenge. But once you’ve wrapped your head around the concept, the precise button presses lose a bit of their flavor.


"Fans of rhythm games can easily find something much better to tap with, and even diehard Senran Kagura fans will struggle to continue playing this one for more than a few hours."

After playing through the story mode with three of the characters I felt like I had seen all the title had to offer, and by the time I hit my fifth character I was ready to call it quits. Cut scenes were repetitive and quite boring. Worst of all they were, for the most part, unskippable. None of the humor or cuteness that was so apparent in the other Senran Kagura titles had a chance to stand out amidst all the fluff of Bon Appetit’s story, and, much like Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection, the game ends up sacrificing its compelling content for pure unadulterated fan service.

Graphics are on par with other Senran Kagura entries. Fans will know what to expect, but newcomers can look forward to fluid animations, a crisp, defining cell-shaded anime style, and striking visual ambience all wrapped up in a sexy little package. Unfortunately you won’t get much of an opportunity to enjoy the visuals because of the hectic rhythm gameplay. Taking your eyes off the bars, even for a second, can destroy your score, especially on the harder modes. 

Bon Appetit is far from a satisfying serving. Its bite-sized gameplay is sure to leave a bad taste, but its lukewarm story and shallow depth are the biggest offenders. The portion is nothing more than a few levels, irritating, mostly unskippable cut scenes, and simple rhythm gameplay. Fans of rhythm games can easily find something much better to tap with, and even diehard Senran Kagura fans will struggle to continue playing this one for more than a few hours. Don’t consider this menu item, you’ll just end up sending it back.

Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: Playstation Vita

4.5
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Digimon All-Star Rumble Review

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Disney, TT Games and Activision have all proven that kids games don’t need to be shovelware. Instead of continuing that trend and further expanding the genre, developer Prope decided it would be a good idea to blatantly rip-off its competition. The only problem is, Prope doesn’t seem to understand what makes these other games fun in the first place. Digimon All-Star Rumble is nothing more than a poor man’s Skylanders with badly inspired Smash Bros. arena combat. Digimon Rumble Arena on the original Playstation already tried to cash in on Nintendo’s success and failed, although the gameplay was strikingly more energetic and fun. 

There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by other developers’ work. Disney Infinity clearly follows Activision’s formula, but at least they’re injecting their own ideas and personality. Unfortunately, Digimon All-Star Rumble is a disaster and does nothing to set itself apart. It takes good ideas and breaks them. It’s repetitive, oftentimes unplayable and probably one of the ugliest last-gen games in years. 

Sometimes it’s best to judge a book by its cover. If the gaudy 3D Digimon renderings on the cover aren’t indicative of the game’s poor quality, then the horrid screenshots on the back certainly are. The low asking price doesn’t help either. While high production values and innovative gameplay aren’t necessary to have some mindless fun with a popular kids’ franchise, Digimon All-Star Rumble barely passes as a finished product. Jumping between button-mashing and unresponsive controls isn’t characteristic of a good time. Small developers have proven that creativity and talent aren’t defined by a publisher’s budget. Sadly, All-Star rumble feels like a result of the developers’ apathy and disregard for the project.   


"Digimon All-Star Rumble is nothing more than a poor man’s Skylanders with badly inspired Smash Bros. arena combat."

All-Star Rumble takes linearity to a whole new level of awful. There are 12 playable Digimon, each with their own brief storyline. The game can be played solo, but it’s designed with multiplayer in mind, supporting up to four players in battle. Every chapter consists of small, segmented levels and an end boss fight within a confined arena. Levels take less than a minute to beat, and that’s when taking it slow. Each Digimon has three different attacks and an unresponsive block command. Going through levels consists of mashing buttons and flipping switches to open gates. There’s no exploration and the “treasure chests” usually just sit there in clear sight.

Digimon All-Star Rumble’s biggest attraction, the battle arenas, is also the game’s biggest disgrace. Imagine Smash Bro. completely stripped of everything that makes it enjoyable. Instead of multi-leveled platforms with exciting power-ups and chaotic action, gamers are left with mashing buttons around barren arenas with derivative special attacks and lousy transformations. The developers couldn’t even get the button-mashing right. The controls are unresponsive and the blocking rarely works. It’s impossible to block mid combo, or even mid attack, and the Digimon has to face his opponent perfectly for the punches to connect. The AI either just stands there and takes a beating or attacks like a rabid dog. Later levels introduce some interesting obstacles, like a speed train that deals extra damage, but it barely reaches mediocrity. 


"It’s hard to say who Digimon All-Star Rumble is for. Even the most die-hard Digimon fans won’t be able to ignore the game’s abysmal quality."

All-Star Rumble’s most notable feature is also its most underutilized one. Players can collect DigiCards to strengthen Digimons in battle, but the perks are just basic enhancements like health and EP boosts or the ability to lower the opponent’s stats. Only two cards can be equipped before each battle. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to expand on the Skylanders concept. Instead of collecting action figures, players could collect cheaper, but equally effective, trading cards to use in-game. It’s a wasted opportunity.

It’s hard to say who Digimon All-Star Rumble is for. Even the most die-hard Digimon fans won’t be able to ignore the game’s abysmal quality. If it weren’t for the Digimon brand, this would easily rank as one of the year’s worst games. It’s a real shame, because this is a complete waste of a great licence. Parents beware, this isn’t the type of gift you want to leave under the Christmas tree.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 3      

2
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