Smite Review

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"Smite is a good game with lots of potential, but it’s still pretty rough around the edges. Problems with the menu layout, graphics, item tiers and camera angles bring down the overall experience."

Smite is a free to play downloadable third-person action MOBA from producer Hi-Rez studios. It’s a different and relatively refreshing take on the tried and true MOBA formula that DoTA started years ago. Instead of heroes or champions Smite uses gods. The gods are taken from a variety of religions and for the most part are handled respectfully. The variety of gods may span across the board, but a good portion of them are taken from Roman, Greek, and Norse mythology. Smite also places a heavy emphasis on skill shots, which are abilities that do not hone in on a target automatically. Instead they are shot in a line, cone shape, or area around your god. This is a cool idea in theory, but in practice it can make for some pretty clunky gameplay, especially when coupled with the game’s over-the-shoulder third-person camera. Smite offers up a variety of modes that can be a refreshing take on how the game is played. This helps to split up the monotony of constantly playing one map at any given time, allowing the game to remain fresh even after I was bored of the normal three lane push maps that all MOBA’s implement. Smite is a good game with lots of potential, but it’s still pretty rough around the edges. Problems with the menu layout, graphics, item tiers and camera angles bring down the overall experience. But, at its heart it’s still a fun way to pass the time, due to its high replay value, and, with some future tweaks it could sport formidable competitive scene.

As I’ve already mentioned Smite’s playable characters are gods. They’re taken from multiple religions, but for the most part you’ll find that there’s an emphasis on Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythos. For the most part it’s really cool to see these gods in action, but every once in a while I found myself questioning the practicality of some of the character design choices made my Hi-Rez. Female characters are obnoxiously busty which is all amplified by the game’s generous use of “jiggle physics”. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get some level of entertainment out of it the first time I realized it, but I think the extra touch was unnecessary and ended up making the game feel a bit juvenile. Furthermore, it’s awesome to see well-known gods implemented in the game, but I wish that there would have been a wider selection of gods from other religions, especially ones that are lesser-known. I do applaud Hi-Rez’s decision to include pages for god bios. It’s a nice little addition that really shows that they’re willing to go the extra mile and it was a fun way to educate myself about some gods that I’d never seen or heard of before.


"Supporting was fun in Smite, but there were a lot of problems with skill shots when it comes to support spells."

One of biggest differences between Smite and other MOBAs is the fact that it’s done entirely through a third-person camera rather than the traditional isometric view. When I first heard about this it was one of the things that pulled me to it, and during my initial rounds, while I was still learning I found it to be a very fun and fluid experience, then I started playing more complex gods and began to notice the inherit problems. While straight line and even cone shaped skill shots are fun and easy to pull off, distance AoE spells are quite difficult to approximate given the game’s field of view. This problem is amplified in large team fights where the ground is covered by characters obscuring the template from view and making it very frustrating to land skills that would be absolutely no problem if the game was isometric.

I’m a huge fan of playing support units, and I always have been ever since the original DoTA: All-Stars. Supporting was fun in Smite, but there were a lot of problems with skill shots when it comes to support spells. Coming from DoTA I was a huge fan of Dazzle (Shadow Priest) due to his ability to heal heroes, high survivability, lane effectiveness and his ridiculously overpowered skill, Shallow Grave. After playing around with all the gods in Smite I found that Aphrodite was a pretty close match to Dazzle’s play-style and experimented a lot with her, attempting to gauge whether or not she was a practical choice in competitive gameplay. I learned quickly just how clunky support spells can be, especially ones that effect allied and enemy players differently. Since skill shots impact the first player hit within a spell’s applicable radius I found that allied units were constantly running in my pathway when a spell was intended for an enemy. So my spell would produce the allied effect rather than the stun effect that it has on enemies, causing plenty of instances where enemy players were able to escape. As you can imagine this lead to some seriously frustrating game scenarios that really turned me off from Aphrodite and eventually dedicated support units in general. Due to this issue I find that the game strongly favors DPS classes like Hunters, Assassins, and Mages in competitive play. I eventually found some solid footing within the Guardian role, especially with gods like Athena and Hades, eventually finding an even balance and assuming more of a support role.


"Now we stumble across one of my major gripes with Smite, the item system. The whole thing is inertly flawed. There seems to be no system in place, especially with early game items, to govern why items cost what they do."

Smite offers a variety of incredibly fun game modes, breaking up the monotony of the tried and true three lane push maps. Arena, Joust and Domination are just some of the other available modes permanently featured, with another random mode that rotates out daily featuring an emphasis on ridiculous scenario match-ups like silly unique objectives or 5v5 mirror matches. This is one of the things that Smite does right, and it really gives the game an opportunity to shine in ways that exceed other MOBAs in a traditional sense. I especially had a lot of fun with the Arena mode, which is essentially a team death match on an enclosed map with some minor MOBA mechanics (there’s only a minor focus on creeps and pushing, most of the game revolves around slaying the other team). I would love to see Hi-Rez to continue to nurture these kinds of game modes and attempt to create some new ones as well because this one of the game’s selling points. The one downside to all of this stems from the popularity of these varied game modes. Because most players seem content with engaging in Arena or Joust more traditional and team oriented modes like Conquest are left in the dust and are forced to deal with alarmingly high queue times. There were instances where a five man conquest pre-made would take upwards of 10 minutes to get into a game, which was absolutely ridiculous.

Now we stumble across one of my major gripes with Smite, the item system. The whole thing is inertly flawed. There seems to be no system in place, especially with early game items, to govern why items cost what they do. Let’s look at an example: Light Blade versus the Ancient Blade. Light blade is an item that grants a 10% increased attack speed for the hefty price of 700 gold, while Ancient Blade offers 10% increased attack speed and 4% movement speed for only 580 gold. Pause for a second and re-read what I just wrote and consider how that makes any sense at all. Maybe I’m just bad at math, but I think there’s something incredibly wrong with this picture. In addition to the seemingly random reasoning behind item costs Hi-Rez seems to be removing items instead of adding new ones. I can understand removing an item temporarily because it has introduced some sort of game breaking bug, or unforeseen imbalances, but the guys over at Hi-Rez seem to be constantly removing items, dwindling the list of choices which in turn limits play styles, builds and the ability to respond to certain forms of cheese. Where are items that offer pure HP boosts? Where are standard MOBA items that offer bleed, mana burn or other passive abilities? Why aren’t there more active ability items? This is by far the weakest part of Smite, and since items and builds are a significant part of how MOBAs work I feel it’s holding the game back significantly.


"Skins are unlocked using in game currency or can be purchased with real world money as well. I was disappointed to find that some skins can only be purchased with real world currency, especially when you notice that these are by far some of the coolest skins in the game."

So, as with any free to play game weary gamers have to wonder: just how free is free? Well, Hi-Rez has managed to strike a relatively even balance between DoTA 2 and League of Legends in the sense that the roster is constantly rotating, but all gods can be unlocked with in game currency that feels fairly earned. It takes a while to save up, but you can do so without the fear of being forced to dump hundreds of hours into the game to unlock a god that isn’t in the standard rotation. In addition you may pay a small fee to rent a god for one round if you wish, or If you just want access to all the Gods without having to grind for currency Hi-Rez has implemented an option to buy all the heroes (including ones released in the future) for a reasonable asking price of $30 (US). Skins are unlocked using in game currency or can be purchased with real world money as well. I was disappointed to find that some skins can only be purchased with real world currency, especially when you notice that these are by far some of the coolest skins in the game, but the game is just advertised as free to play not free to customize, so I can’t really knock them for that. If anything, it’s a genius business practice that borrows liberally from the Valve mindset.

Smite’s graphics are a bit rough around the edges (the game requires that users install Direct X 9 when most games now utilize Direct X 11) but they’re optimized well allowing the game to run on a large variety of machines, increasing the game’s player base. The game doesn’t look bad on high end rigs, but it’s definitely dated, especially when noting backgrounds and level design. Character design for the most part is fantastic and expressive, featuring a colorful palate that really gives each god a unique look and feel. Some models look better than others, but for the most part they’re all smoothly animated and I noticed no stutter or slowdown at all even when the action became paramount.


"So, aside from my two major issues with the items and UI, Smite is fun. It really shines in its more basic death match combat, but, suffers a lot due to poorly implemented items, camera angles and UI."

Onto my last serious gripe about Smite before I wrap this all up for you: the game’s menus. It’s been a while since I’ve encountered a user interface this atrocious. The game is buried in a system of connected menus that make it incredibly hard to navigate. Even the game’s auto-communication commands require players to memorize a sequence of key presses to communicate the most basic things effectively. Instead of implementing a simple scroll wheel or allowing for in game key-binds Smite requires that you either create out of game macros or hope your fingers can remember all the correct combinations. So, when the pressure is on and it really matters here’s to hoping you can remember how to spam “Help” effectively.  This, in my opinion, is another thing that really holds this game back from being on higher level of quality and polish and is a detriment to ranked gameplay.

So, aside from my two major issues with the items and UI, Smite is fun. It really shines in its more basic death match combat, but, suffers a lot due to poorly implemented items, camera angles and UI. With some work it could become a more respectable competitive MOBA capable of sitting at the feet of its much older and more refined brothers, DoTA and LoL. But as of right now one thing is for sure: for a game that prides itself on godliness it’s got a lot of cleaning up to do.

Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: PC

6.5
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Goat Simulator Review

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"Though the game is simplistic both visually and control-wise, it makes for hours of fun even if it is a bit rough around the edges."

Goat Simulator isn’t a game in a traditional sense, rather it’s more of an interactive joke. Taking place in a tiny rural world that serves as your sandbox, you the player are given control over a deceptively adorable goat that is capable of creating delightful havoc with each and every clop of its hooves. Developer Coffee Stain Studios has really stumbled upon some true genius here with their brilliant use of absurd physics allowing players to destroy, lick, hop and rocket their way around the terrain to discover funny hidden gems, head-butt unsuspecting bystanders and reenact their favorite Michael Bay flicks. Though the game is simplistic both visually and control-wise, it makes for hours of fun even if it is a bit rough around the edges due to some very apparent visual bugs which Coffee Stain has stated won’t be removed.

There’s no real story to be told here, which, to be honest, is kind of refreshing. Instead I created my own story, naming my silly little goat, Billy the Destroyer of Worlds. When the game booted up, I took Billy on his initial romp around the town, completing various achievements and objectives that revolve around a point system. The points are accrued by completing combos (think along the lines of the Tony Hawk games) that are strung together by doing various activities like summersaults, getting hit by cars and vaulting yourself off trampolines. These activities are then multiplied depending on how many different things you do within an allotted time frame. Though this mechanic followed Billy wherever he went, I found that after the initial fun of seeing what ridiculous activities warranted points the system became kind of tacked on and lost its luster.


"Don’t expect state of the art and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how absorbed you can become while exploring the world."

Graphically the game is pretty poor looking, feeling kind of like one of those old Burger King budget games released back in ’07 on Xbox 360. But before you begin to criticize Coffee Stain for not implementing the latest Direct X 11 particle effects let me interject by saying there’s something endearing about the way the game looks. Billy may not have been the prettiest goat to ever be rendered in a game, but the lack of detail and realism lends to the overall absurdity of the world, complimenting the action, glitches and silliness quite effectively. Don’t expect state of the art and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how absorbed you can become while exploring the world.

Goat Simulator’s controls are well implemented, albeit a bit simple. There are only a handful of actions that can be done at any given time, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The real fun comes from using your imagination to do the silliest things you possibly can with the tools given. Goats are capable of jumping, licking, headbutting and going limp, creating a ragdoll effect. Licking is more than what it sounds like though, and, according to Coffee Stain, goat tongues are amongst the most adhesive of all surfaces. Once an object is licked, whether it be human or otherwise, your goat’s tongue will drag it along wherever it goes until you’ve decided to stop. Needless to say, my little Billy had a field day running around, licking unsuspecting civilians and dragging them to the highest points possible before dropping them off and watching them flail all the way to the ground. It all sounds a lot more sinister then it really is, and when coupled with the game’s mockery of physics the whole thing is taken, quite literally, to ridiculous heights making for some over-the-top hilarity.


"Coffee Stain was already one of my favorite developers, what with their fun Sanctum series and awesome gamer-centric mindset, but Goat Simulator puts them into a whole new spotlight."

Coffee Stain has implemented a number of various hidden activities like a Jetpack, angel goat, devil goat, and even a Flappy Bird clone called, you guessed it, Flappy Goat. Don’t worry, I didn’t really spoil these things for you. It’s one thing to know of their existence and another thing entirely to find and use them. These touches are really great at adding longevity, rewarding players for discovering them and offering incentives to explore each and every nook and cranny of the game world. I hope to see more of these in the future with the game’s upcoming free DLC packs (yay free!).

Coffee Stain was already one of my favorite developers, what with their fun Sanctum series and awesome gamer-centric mindset, but Goat Simulator puts them into a whole new spotlight, shining upon their devilishly creative sense of humor. Though the game is riddled with bugs, none of them are game breaking. Just be ready to open the console and enter the respawn command. In the end the game is meant to poke fun at other simulation titles and does so effectively. Though it won’t be something you’re going to play for forty hours straight, it has immense replay value and is perfect for bite-sized goat fueled adventuring. I must say I wouldn’t trade my time with Billy for the world. It’s a budget title that reminds its players that we don’t need to take everything seriously, especially within the world of simulations. There’s something to be said about the inherent fun that lays within forcing a rocket-propelled goat down a water-slide

Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: PC

8
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Amazon Fire TV Review

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"While hardcore gamers aren't likely to be the system’s early adopters, it’s surprising how well the Amazon Fire TV works as a gaming device."

Amazon’s entry into the gaming market has been both surprising and monumental. First they brought us the notably powerful and budget priced Kindle Fire HDX last year and now this - a tiny powerhouse that’s not only the best streaming device on the market, it actually makes mobile gaming on the big screen work. I wasn’t particularly excited to get my hands on another mobile console hybrid after witnessing Ouya’s absurd hype and disastrous launch, but I’m glad I kept my faith in Amazon’s promise to deliver quality products. Amazon Fire TV impresses from the moment it’s plugged into the wall. It takes seconds to set up and instantly delivers everything you’d expect from a small app player – and then some. While hardcore gamers aren't likely to be the system’s early adopters, it’s surprising how well the Amazon Fire TV works as a gaming device. It’s fast, responsive and delivers superb 1080p resolution with no lag and zero hiccups. And let’s not forget the streaming…if you’re sick and tired of annoying buffering and loading screens, Amazon Fire TV crushes its competition with lightning fast load times and seamless UI navigation.

As with the Kindle Fire HDX, the Amazon Fire TV comes with the user’s account synced up and ready to go. Connecting the Fire TV is a breeze. It comes packaged with a power adapter, remote and batteries. An HDMI cable is needed for the TV connection and if you’re more interested in gaming, an Xbox 360-inspired wireless gamepad can be purchased separately. While most of the casual games can be played with the included remote, the gamepad is imperative for proper FPS gaming. Once the Network WEP is entered, the Fire TV is ready for streaming apps and playing games.


"There’s no aggravating lag between clicks and loading apps like Netflix and Hulu takes mere seconds…yes, it’s that fast."

There’s a brief introductory animation explaining Fire TV’s features and serving as a basic tutorial. While on-screen tutorials have a tendency to be drawn out and derivative, the Fire TV’s intro is brief, charming and surprisingly useful. Once familiar with the remote functionality, you’re greeted to a cleanly designed main menu. Accessibility is the motto here and it’s clear that the developers’ design emphasizes user-friendliness over ad-cluster (cough…Xbox ONE…cough). Navigating between movies, TV, games, apps and photos is effortless and most importantly fast. There’s no aggravating lag between clicks and loading apps like Netflix and Hulu takes mere seconds…yes, it’s that fast.

One of Fire TV’s most impressive features is the voice search. Unlike the gimmicky Xbox ONE Kinect or PS Move, this is a peripheral that actually functions as advertised and significantly enhances usability. Simply holding the mic button and speaking the name of a show, actor or genre instantly brings up a list of available options. Best of all, it adapts to the user’s voice over time, so the more it’s used the better it recognizes spoken words. To test its functionality, I found myself crouching behind a couch, murmuring phrases (sometimes even gibberish) just to see how well it pieces words together. Aside from a few foreign names and titles, it works stupendously well. Amazon’s voice recognition technology is truly remarkable and I imagine it only gets better the more it’s used each day.


"Textures are sharp, the framerate is exceptionally smooth and the gamepad response time is spot on. There are minor hiccups during larger explosions, but it’s no worse than what we’ve already seen on last gen consoles."

As a big gamer and someone who’s been let down by Ouya not too long ago, my first series of tests consisted of rigorous gaming. The Amazon Fire TV comes with a free copy of Sev Zero, Amazon’s first premiere title. It’s a tower defense game similar to Sanctum and while it’s not particularly innovative, it’s a neat tech demonstration of what this little device is truly capable of. Visually, Sev Zero can easily pass for an Xbox 360 or PS3 title. Equipped with a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and a dedicated graphics card, the Fire TV is impressively powerful. Textures are sharp, the framerate is exceptionally smooth and the gamepad response time is spot on. There are minor hiccups during larger explosions, but it’s no worse than what we’ve already seen on last gen consoles. It’s important to keep in mind that all of this is running on a tiny square box that can fit in the palm of your hand. It’s truly remarkable. Other tested titles include Asphalt 8: Airborne, Deus EX: The Fall, The Walking Dead and Dead Trigger 2. Aside from a couple fps dips in Asphalt 8, every game performed exceptionally well, particularly the graphically impressive Dead Trigger 2. Those who decide to purchase the gamepad, you’ll be happy to know that its ergonomic design is as comfortable as the Xbox 360 controller. The analog sticks are meticulous and the buttons have a nice clickiness to them. The shoulder buttons work well too, but they feel somewhat rigid. This may not be an issue most people since mobile games don’t require precise pressure sensitivity, but it feels a bit off.

This also brings me to Fire TV’s biggest downfall: storage space. With only 8GB of available space, it’s easy to run out after downloading only three, slightly bigger, games. If Amazon plans on expanding its gaming library and appealing to gamers, this will be (and already is) a major problem. While it doesn't take too long to re-download and re-install most titles, being unable to have more than a handful of installed games is a tremendous letdown. On the other hand, most users are likely to buy the Fire TV for its streaming capabilities, but it wouldn’t hurt to release an external storage device for those who like their mobile gaming on the big screen.


"TV shows and movies load instantaneously and the buffering takes no more than a few seconds before the image quality adjusts to Super HD."

For years now, I’ve used the PS3 (and more recently the PS4) for my streaming services. However, after using the Amazon Fire TV I can’t imagine going back to anything else. Netflix in particular, which is notorious for its horrid buffering if you’re a Verizon user, runs perfectly. TV shows and movies load instantaneously and the buffering takes no more than a few seconds before the image quality adjusts to Super HD. Prime users will appreciate even quicker load-times since all available films and TV shows are on the main menu. Music lovers can also access their favorite apps like Pandora, iHeart Radio, Tunein and Vevo via the main menu and the Fire TV’s 5.1 surround sound ensures you can enjoy superb audio quality with the proper speaker set-up. If that’s not enough, the Fire TV is integrated with Amazon Cloud Drive, allowing easy viewing of personal videos and photos on the big screen. It’s even possible to use your own images to create slide shows for the custom screensaver on Fire TV. For those who’ve already invested in Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX, you can now use the Second Screen function to fling Amazon TV shows and movies from the tablet to the Fire TV. While watching content on the big screen, you can use the tablet’s customized X-Ray display to view actor info and other additional material. It’s exciting being able to find out what song is playing while watching films, or what the characters’ back-stories are.

Amazon’s Fire TV is a remarkable piece of technology. It’s small, affordable, incredibly powerful and easy to use. It’s the best streaming device on the market right now and its only downside is the absurdly small storage space. Even if you’re gamer who considers mobile gaming too casual, the Fire TV’s capabilities may change your mind…I know they changed mine. This is what the Ouya should have been. This is what many companies tried to do but failed until now. Amazon’s Fire TV is a must for tech/gadget enthusiasts and casual gamers alike. It’s the only streaming device you’ll ever need and Amazon’s recent acquisition of Double Helix means hardcore gamers have a lot to look forward to as well.

Reviewed by: Tin Salamunic

A-
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Trials Fusion Review

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"The entire system can be learned in around two minutes, yet players will still be honing their skills several hours into the game's campaign, and the game's one-button checkpoint and level reset mechanics make it very easy to do so."

Having never played much of the previous entries in the Trials franchise, I came into this review with tempered expectations. How much mileage could you possibly get out of the game’s simple physics-based motorcycle racing? Well, several hours later and with tired eyes, I am here to tell you that Trials: Fusion is a fiendishly difficult and addictive puzzle/racing hybrid that promises hours upon hours of immensely satisfying gameplay.

Fusion’s core concept is very simple. Players must navigate through a series of 3D tracks on a 2D plane, using only their accelerator, brake, and the left analog stick to balance your rider. Most levels challenge you simply to get from point A to B in the fastest time—and with the fewest crashes—possible. The entire system can be learned in around two minutes, yet players will still be honing their skills several hours into the game's campaign, and the game's one-button checkpoint and level reset mechanics make it very easy to do so.

Going back to replay tracks is essential to the experience. Not only are there three medals to win for each track, but there are also three sub-challenges that can completely change how you play that particular level. You may complete one track in a decent time with no faults, but then the game challenges you to come back and do the same while completing 10 backflips, or keeping your front wheel off the ground for a large portion of the race. Some levels offer skill challenges to break up the experience, enticing players to compete in big air or trick events to add variety to the game.


"The courses themselves are varied and gorgeous. Levels are divided into eight events, and while each uses their own distinct palette of background and track features, no two individual courses felt overly similar."

As you earn medals, you will earn experience to add to your character’s level and money to earn unlocks to customize the appearance of your rider. And while these rewards are essential for many similar games, it never seemed to motivate me more than the simple satisfaction of completing a challenge. The courses themselves are varied and gorgeous. Levels are divided into eight events, and while each uses their own distinct palette of background and track features, no two individual courses felt overly similar. In the urban section, for example, one event sees you ride through the city’s marina bunny-hopping from one yacht to the next, while another track has you whipping double backflips off of the backs of blimps. Pyrotechnics, collapsing bridges, see-saw points, and launch pads add to the variety to both the visuals and the gameplay experience. Some of my favorite tracks includes moving floors, forcing players to be launched into the air to seemingly crash into the floor below before the track appears in front of you at a moment’s notice.


"A very impressive level editor promises that gamers will have plenty more to experience after the main campaign is over."

The game’s sense of humor is also present throughout. The game features two computerized announcers, a disinterested male voice and a female voice that is clearly inspired by GLaDOS from Portal, who routinely cajole or congratulate you for your accomplishments. These audio tracks are linked to every course, meaning you will hear the same line over and over again as you restart the level, but they can be turned off at any time and offer quite a few jokes that had me laughing out loud. There is also an overwhelming sense of doom for your little rider, as each and every course ends in seeing him cross the finish line only to be launched into a lake or a pile of crates or off of a skyscraper and into traffic 40 stories below. As difficult as some courses are to complete, that little moment of humor at the end can be a nice reminder that yes, you are having fun.

The game works well as a single-player experience, but it is meant to be shared. A very impressive level editor promises that gamers will have plenty more to experience after the main campaign is over, and I am eagerly looking forward to some of the challenges that users are sure to come up with. Four player races are another available, and you also have the option of racing through single-player races against your friends’ ghosts to compete for the top spot on the international leaderboards. Trials: Fusion is also one of the first games that really makes me want to use the video-sharing function of the current generation, as so many accomplishments you earn will have you looking around the room for someone to share a “did you see that?” moment. As more players pick up the game, I am sure the social features of the game will take more center stage than they have at this point in my experience.

There is little about Trials: Fusion that I would not recommend, and with the fairly limited number of titles available for next-gen adopters—as well as the fact that this will be the first title in the series available on a Sony platform—I suspect many gamers will jump on board for a ride. It serves as a great introduction to the franchise, contains hours of content, and provides a worthy challenge. Do not miss it.


Review by: Nick Walge | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

10
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Agarest: Generations of War Zero Review

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"That makes this something akin to flying to Japan and ordering at the first restaurant off the plane; the odds of getting something comfortable and familiar are low."

This is my first review for The Game Scouts and I must admit that I’m enormously stepping out of my area of expertise on this one. Speaking frankly, I’m most likely more than a bit ethno-centrist in my adamant resistance to anime and the JRPG genre; I am a big fan of Western storytelling and will always choose Batman over Dragonball Z. The only Final Fantasy game I actually played much was the lucky number seven, and even that wasn’t really my cup of tea. That makes this something akin to flying to Japan and ordering at the first restaurant off the plane; the odds of getting something comfortable and familiar are low, but it’s still best to keep an open mind and enjoy the new experience. As luck would have it, Agarest did nothing to turn my stomach. Serving as a prequel, Agarest puts ye mighty player in the shoes of Sieghart, a character so powerful that he immediately dies in the second fight he finds himself in; have no fears, for a mysterious woman will bring him back to life, imbuing him with extraordinarily more acceptable powers.

As can often be the case in such games, Agarest: Generations of War Zero is a veritable time sink. The first thing a player might notice is the strange pacing that the game decides to take. Story is generally just as vital as action in a role-playing game, and this one throws quite a bit at you. However, some of the dialogue becomes redundant, boring, and trite; you may find yourself wondering why you bother reading page after page of conversation that doesn’t propel the story forward.


"Combat in the game is repetitive, but enjoyable enough for those who enjoy turn-based RPG-style fisticuffs."

Funny enough, the introductory exposition flies by at an absurd pace, not allowing the player enough time to read it in full. When the character interaction begins, the pace comes to a screeching halt. Luckily the game-makers had the foresight to put in a fast-forwarding “skip” option, through which you will get to see the dialogue flash by at a lightning pace. You can toggle this time-saver on and off as you choose, because some of the story is absolutely intriguing. Enough time in, it’s possible that the characters may develop beyond their relatively simple starting points.

Combat in the game is repetitive, but enjoyable enough for those who enjoy turn-based RPG-style fisticuffs. Fighting orcs, wolves, and wasps may be the unavoidable “task de jour” for the opening chapters, but the tutorial instruction on fighting mechanics is pretty good, and the difficulty level starts out forgivingly for those who learn slowly. The fights involve a good amount of strategy, but nothing unfamiliar; I yearned ever so slightly for something like South Park: The Stick of Truth, which I think had similar action but greater amusement value. The graphics are cute, although technically immature and a bit cherubic in the character design. Better are the dialogue-based character close-ups, which better translate the nature of the characters on screen. A nice modern touch, these close-ups are not stills, but speak with limited animation, making them less reminiscent of old 90’s games in the arcade (although they still may bring to mind good old days playing TMNT)


"Unfortunately, this fellowship is less compelling, and the female characters in particular are written to have a kind of angelic, maidenly helplessness."

One complaint that can be easily levied is the absolute linearity of the game map. In the first two hours of gameplay, there were no options, forks, or decisions outside of “on to the next one”. This is a map that didn’t even bother try to match the geographical complexity of a Super Nintendo Mario game, let alone the free-ranging whimsy of a Final Fantasy game. In a world of sandbox video games, an absolute absence of risk and choice is disappointing.
The banality of the early map is a shame too, because there seems to be a fair amount of imagination loaded into this fantasyland. There are some hints that the long-course story will be building towards an ultimate battle of “light vs dark” in true Tolkien style. Unfortunately, this fellowship is less compelling, and the female characters in particular are written to have a kind of angelic, maidenly helplessness. Playing long enough, there are definitely some hints of betrayal and character choices that may shape whom your ending party will be; that said, the time spent getting to that point may not be time worth spending.

The music is simple, but enjoyable; as with the graphics, the one word that I would use to describe the atmosphere, gameplay, and overall experience is a forgiving one: “quaint”. Without a doubt, that was the impression; this is a game that will suck you in for hours at a time, but in a quixotic quest that doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get you there. And there you have it: this game is a purgatory for those that do not zealously love the genre. Given no middle-option between rapid scene-skipping and egregiously-slow gabbing, those that are not fans of the JRPG may want to skip it altogether. For those who enjoy this sort of thing, you could do much worse.

Review by: Robert Roodhouse | Reviewed on: PC

6
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LEGO The Hobbit Review

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"The Hobbit is the best LEGO game to date and some of the most fun I’ve had with my PS4 since the system’s launch."

Since the 2005 Lego Star Wars: The Video Game on PC, I’ve been completely enamored by Traveller’s Tales’ digitization of my favorite childhood toys. Even all these years later, I feel a childlike excitement with every new release. Being able to venture through vast, virtual LEGO worlds has been consistently exciting despite little changes to the gameplay formula. On the other hand, presentation has evolved tremendously within the past few entries. The introduction of voice acting has given our plastic heroes a greater sense of personality and the environmental sandbox approach has made each LEGO world considerably more immersive. With Traveller’s Tales’ latest LEGO The Hobbit, the developers have outdone themselves once again. From improved visuals and refined gameplay mechanics to better level designs and wittier writing, The Hobbit is the best LEGO game to date and some of the most fun I’ve had with my PS4 since the system’s launch.

LEGO The Hobbit loosely follows the first two films in the trilogy. I’ve yet to see Peter Jackson’s big screen adaptation, but being able experience Tolkien’s finest work within a satirical LEGO landscape is all I need for the time being. Without delving into the familiar narrative too much, LEGO The Hobbit is best described as a Monty Python-esque retelling of Tolkien’s novel. The storyline follows the novel’s events fairly closely, but it’s been modified to fit within the game’s chapters. As a result, certain storyline bits feel choppy if you’re unfamiliar with the source material, but from a video game perspective it enhances LEGO’s action-oriented pacing.


"The lighting and textures are eye-popping and each level is crammed with movie inspired set pieces and breakable LEGO bricks."

From a technical standpoint, LEGO The Hobbit may not be a graphical behemoth like the recent Infamous: Second Son, but for a LEGO game it’s pretty damn close. The lighting and textures are eye-popping and each level is crammed with movie inspired set pieces and breakable LEGO bricks. A consistently smooth framerate ensures fluid action no matter how many chunks scatter across the screen, although the stubborn camera issues still haven’t been addressed. Impressively directed cinematics tie chapters masterfully and the signature LEGO humor provides constant laughs from the very first opening scene to the end.

While the majority of LEGO The Hobbit played without any freezes or crashes, I did experience a few button–prompt issues. Certain key chests couldn’t be opened because the necessary icon wasn’t showing up and I was forced to restart an entire level on two occasions. While this isn’t a serious game-breaking bug, it’s annoying if it happens after 30 minutes of collecting every single treasure within a level. It’s also somewhat disappointing that the save function hasn’t improved from previous entries. Checkpoints are still few and far between and while there are various statue save-points, it takes too long to reach them.


"The Hobbit is worth every penny and Tolkien fans will cherish the care and detail Traveller’s Tales put into their work."

The gameplay has been refined to feel smoother and more responsive but still remains conceptually unchanged. For anyone with OCD-like tendencies, the obsessive coin collecting can be traumatizing – and I mean this in the best way possible. Reaching that perfect score at the end of every level is what LEGO games have always been about and The Hobbit is no different. The semi-open world levels have an absurd amount of collectibles and each chapter is filled with plethora of side quests and hidden secrets. Puzzles still play a major role in LEGO The Hobbit and while they’re by no means brainteasers, it’s still fun trying to figure out what abilities are needed for overcoming obstacles. Mining and forging items also plays a big part in LEGO The Hobbit. In order to get past certain checkpoints, it’s necessary to craft keys, cranes and a bunch of other similar devices. Of course, in order to keep your inventory craft-ready you have to hunt down every breakable object in your path.

LEGO The Hobbit is an impressive evolution of a very long running franchise. While I still hope to see more gameplay variety from future offerings, the sheer scope and undeniable LEGO charm is what continues to keep me glued to the screen. If you’ve enjoyed previous LEGO entries, I’m happy to say that this is the most epic title to date. In terms of sheer value, The Hobbit is worth every penny and Tolkien fans will cherish the care and detail Traveller’s Tales put into their work. Yes, the LEGO series may be geared towards a very young audience, but I have no shame in admitting that I still enjoy each release as much as the big-boy AAA titles.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

8.5
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Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut Review

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"While it does bring some interesting ideas into the space shooter arena, it does come with a number of drawbacks that will likely fail to impress gamers outside of the diehard target audience."

The space shooter genre—once flush with quality franchises such as Colony Wars, Wing Commander, and the various Star Wars: Tie Fighter and Rogue Squadron games—has long since faded from most gaming store shelves. Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut, originally released for PCs last year by Born Ready Games and funded by a Kickstarter campaign, seeks to fill the void that joystick jockeys have felt for years now, and while it does bring some interesting ideas into the space shooter arena, it does come with a number of drawbacks that will likely fail to impress gamers outside of the diehard target audience.

Players take on the role of Adams, a mute fighter pilot serving alongside the last remaining forces of Earth in the year 2299 against a colonial force seeking to control an ancient alien technology. The story is told exclusively over radio chatter during the campaign, which means players are either too busy fighting off the hordes of enemy forces on the screen to follow the plot, or they are forced to drift quietly in space with nothing to do but hear an essential story beat. As a result, players never feel fully invested in the game’s tale, even though the voice acting and writing exhibited levels of nuance that may have been more captivating had it been delivered with a little more style.


"The game’s controls do not have the option to map your own controller, meaning that I had to get by with one of the three predetermined schemes."

Luckily, elements of style within the games visuals and audio do allow it to shine in other ways. Beautiful images of imploding planets make as exciting backdrops to your dogfights, and each opponent you take out explodes with a satisfying rumble. I find myself less inspired by the game’s soundtrack, as the dream-like ambient music and Japanese vocals seem so out-of-sync with the action onscreen that it can be distracting at times.

The game’s controls do not have the option to map your own controller, meaning that I had to get by with one of the three predetermined schemes. After some getting used to, I was able to navigate with some degree of proficiency, but I never felt as confident during tight strafing runs on enemy capital ships as I felt I might have been otherwise. Furthermore, there are no single-button presses for barrel rolls or 180 degree turns, forcing players to swing wide to track enemy movements or release an EMP blast to evade a missile lock. While not necessarily a drawback in and of itself, moments like these do feel like a missed opportunity to add some visual flair to the dogfights.

What the game does offer is an opportunity to transform your fighter into a bipedal mech during combat. Doing so increases your available firepower, but seriously limits your mobility. Nevertheless, switching into Strike Mode, locking on to several opponents on once and then unleashing a torrent of swarm misses is the game’s most satisfying moment. Watching the “Target Destroyed” message as opponents explode by the handful always brings a smile to my face.


"As you progress in the game, the dogfighting soon becomes stale, and there is little else to do."

Unfortunately, the game suffers from serious pacing issues. First, there are no power-ups or restocking stations during the campaign, meaning that players are forced to ration their ammunition from the start. This is very frustrating during the games many long (and often, quite difficult) levels, as having to rely on my cannons to destroy the last remaining opponents became tedious at best. And although the long missions do have many checkpoints allowing you to restart, once you cross one of those thresholds with no ammunition, you are fated to respawn in the same emaciated condition.

As you progress in the game, the dogfighting soon becomes stale, and there is little else to do. Most of the game’s campaign are escort missions where you are responsible for fighting off waves of fighters before they destroy your own capital ships. This structure wears thin very soon, and none of the other missions offer any sort of reprieve. At the Strike Suite Zero’s lowest points, I found myself tracking down incoming torpedoes for waves at a time, or even worse, operating a vessel that fired off slow-moving torpedoes of its own as I watched a distant target’s life bar slowly fall away in tiny chunks.   


"As a downloadable title, the 20 dollar price point should be enough to lure fans of the space shooter genre, and there is much for them to enjoy."

The game comes loaded on consoles with the Heroes of the Fleet DLC, which gives players the chance to reenact other famous battles from the game’s lore, and while it is nice to have an occasional reprieve from the blandly-delivered story, you will find yourself going through the same basic mission types there, as well. There are plenty of ship and weapon upgrades to unlock and an online Leaderboard to keep players busy after the credits roll, but due to monotonous gameplay, I doubt anyone beyond the most dedicated fans will give try to pad the journey available. As a downloadable title, the 20 dollar price point should be enough to lure fans of the space shooter genre, and there is much for them to enjoy. Overall, though, the game’s frustrating design choices make it a game that is not recommended for casual audiences.

Review by: Nick Walge | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

6.5
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Space Adventure Cobra Part 1 Review

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"As one of Weekly Shonen Jump’s best-selling Manga series of all time, Cobra has earned its place as one of Japan’s most notable classics."

Cobra’s Japanese origins aren’t immediately apparent. In fact, Cobra can easily pass as a traditional eighties American cartoon. Inspired by classic spaghetti westerns, James Bond, Disney and most notably Barbarella, Buichi Terasawa’s passion for American cinema is evident with every frame and line of dialogue. As one of Weekly Shonen Jump’s best-selling Manga series of all time, Cobra has earned its place as one of Japan’s most notable classics, spawning various sequels, a Sega CD video game by Hudson Soft, a feature-length film, and of course the fan-favorite 31-episode TV series originally released in 1982. Space Adventure Cobra is for serious animation lovers. It probably won’t appeal to your typical Anime fan, but animation aficionados with an affinity for niche cinema will fall in love with Buichi Terasawa’s quirky sci-fi saga. Combined with his profound love for Osamu Tezuka’s work, Buichi delivers a psychedelic science fiction adventure brimming with colorful characters, explosive action sequences and everything that made the eighties awesome.

Johnson is an office worker who leads an uneventful and dull life. His oversized robotic servant Ben suggests a visit to Trip Movie Corporation, an organization that lets customers experience lifelike dreams in order to escape everyday monotony. Within minutes of connecting to the dream server, Johnson finds himself venturing through galaxies and fighting off space-pirates with an attractive robot companion by his side. He is equipped with a super arm cannon, the Psychogun, that’s powerful enough to destroy entire ship fleets. The catch is that Johnson never signed up for this particular dream. All he wanted is to be surrounded by beautiful women and command a battlestar.


"The series quickly turns into a chaotic spectacle. Flashy explosions, bizarre space aliens, robotic space babes, a futuristic landscape soaked in neon and two incredible leads with great chemistry."

Writing off the dream as a probable (yet exciting) computer error, Johnson leaves Trip Movie Corporation with a renewed sense of excitement. After a sudden car crash, he finds himself face to face with a man who suspiciously resembles Captain Vaiken, one of the space-pirates from his dream. It is then that Johnson starts putting the pieces together. After being confronted by Vaiken, Johnson instinctively pulls out the Psychogun and starts blasting. Once back home, Johnson starts realizing that the dream was in fact a memory. After meddling in the Pirate Guild’s criminal enterprises, Cobra altered his face and erased his memory in order to have a fresh start in life. His robotic servant also turns out to be someone else, namely the attractive robot companion Lady Armaroid.

The series quickly turns into a chaotic spectacle. Flashy explosions, bizarre space aliens, robotic space babes, a futuristic landscape soaked in neon and two incredible leads with great chemistry. Star Wars and Blade Runner fans will relish in Cobra’s constant references to sci-fi classics. Despite its age, Cobra’s humor feels witty and sharp. The hilarious dialogue fits the satirical sci-fi setting perfectly and Cobra is a very likeable protagonist despite his occasionally snarky attitude. While an undoubtedly skilled fighter, his recklessness and ego tend to get him into trouble repeatedly. Luckily, Lady Armaroid (Cobra’s serious-half) is always at arm’s length during sticky situations. Their charming back and forth banter is absolutely delightful and Yoshiko Sakakibara does an impressive job of giving Armaroid a very human-like persona.


"Cobra is an Anime gold mine. It’s a stylistically rare blend of Western and Eastern craft and deserves a special place on any collector’s shelf."

The show’s episodic nature is perfect for sporadic viewing. Each adventure introduces new compelling villains and the frantic pacing never lets up, giving Cobra a sense of grandiose epicness. While the core narrative never escalates beyond rudimentary sci-fi clichés, it’s how the episodes are executed that makes the plot immersive. The artists have done a spectacular job of making every setting feel believable and alive, giving Cobra’s simplistic story a much-needed coat of authenticity. It may seem like Cobra is all about style over substance, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The quality is in the details. It’s a nerd-fest extravaganza, for lack of a better term, which offers genre fans a plate of delicious sci-fi bites wrapped in aesthetic delicacy.   

Cobra is an Anime gold mine. It’s a stylistically rare blend of Western and Eastern craft and deserves a special place on any collector’s shelf. The newly remastered DVD set is by far the best way to experience Cobra’s colorful space ventures and would be a crime to miss out on. My only issue with the set is that it’s been split into two volumes. Considering the show’s short running time, it would have been nicer to have every episode included in one giant combo release. But even with two separate releases, Space Adventure Cobra is a steal at only $37.49 per set. If you’re looking for something drastically different from current Anime offerings, Cobra is an enjoyable look back at the golden age of Japanese animation.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Review Format: DVD | Running Time: 375 Minutes

B+
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Ranma 1/2 Set 1 Series Review

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"Ranma 1/2 makes you laugh, question what the hell is going on, experience a massive range of emotions, laugh some more, and best of all— remember the roots of Japanese animation and why we love it so much."

Rumiko Takahashi, the creator of Ranma 1/2 has proven that stories are a wonderful thing to behold on paper, but an even better experience to watch on television. I say this mostly because of having grown up with her stories on my shelves (Can I get an InuYasha from the crowd, please???), most of which were my introduction to manga, and later, a great excuse to beg my mom to let me stay up late enough to watch the anime on Adult Swim and pout when she said no. All these years later, I must say, I'm still not disappointed in Takahashi’s art. While there may be earlier examples of gender-benders or crazy martial arts, or comedic romances, or even combinations of all three, Ranma 1/2 is one of the best of at least two of those genres. Ranma 1/2, simply put, makes you laugh, question what the hell is going on, experience a massive range of emotions, laugh some more, and best of all— remember the roots of Japanese animation and why we love it so much.

The story seems to begin like any other generic shounen romance. Soun Tendo owns a martial arts school but has only daughters. He therefore has made an agreement with his friend Genma Saotome, who has a son the same age as the youngest Tendo daughter and not that much younger than the oldest. Tendo neglected to tell the girls that one of them would have to marry the young Saotome until the day he receives a postcard telling of the Saotomes' imminent arrival. When he breaks the news, Kasumi, Nabiki, and Akane are understandably upset, none moreso than man-hating Akane, the youngest at sixteen. All of this soon seems negated when a large panda and a teenage girl arrive, the girl proclaiming to be Ranma Saotome. Nabiki's pretty upset, but Akane's utterly relieved... until it turns out that after a hot bath girl Ranma turns into boy Ranma! Talk about a buzz kill.


"However, the cast of characters will never fail to disappoint and that’s one of the things I love so much about old-school manga and anime like Ranma 1/2."

You see, Ranma and his father, the panda, took a trip to a special training ground in China made up of many cursed springs. If you fall into, for example, Spring of Drowned Girl, you become a girl when doused with cold water. Hot water, obviously, will turn you back to your original self. Kasumi and Nabiki, upon learning this, quickly gang up on Akane and make her Ranma's fiancée, saying that it's perfect because he's half a girl. Thus begins a crazy epic of animal/gender swapping, insane martial arts, and an on-again/off-again romance.
Characters are plentiful, but at this point, Volume 1 of the anime, they are all very distinct. Ranma himself is the least formed character; at first he feels badly about his affliction at how it affects others, but soon, he starts to use this to his advantage, and really, it's hard to blame him there. He also clearly likes Akane far more than she likes him; however, her usual treatment at the hands of boys, she's regarded as a prize to be won, does inform her blanket dislike of her new fiancé. Nabiki, the middle Tendo sister, is in some ways the most interesting character, a self-serving strong-minded young woman who seems to enjoy manipulating others. Her interactions with Upperclassman Kuno are particularly entertaining, although it must be admitted that Kuno in general is pretty amusing in an annoying way. However, the cast of characters will never fail to disappoint and that’s one of the things I love so much about old-school manga and anime like Ranma 1/2. Back then, there was almost a blank slate when it came to defining anime tropes.


"To put it simply, Ranma 1/2 is just as enjoyable now in its unflipped, omnibus form as it was years ago when it was one of my first manga experiences."

Nowadays, it can seem like certain behaviors have become too common and c’mon— you know you’ve groaned when someone mentioned a genderswapped version of your favorite character. Ranma 1/2 truly set the stage for Japanese rom-coms. However, what is also cool is that it also has some differences that will seem refreshing to a modern readership. For example, girl Ranma objects to other girls grabbing her breasts, something that is somewhat plentiful in many stories today (Isn’t fan-service beautiful?). There is also a level of goofiness that has become a bit passé, and, of necessity, more fluidity in gender roles than we see as given rather than as something to gloat about.
Lastly, the audio and visuals of Ranma 1/2 for the most part are outstanding for their time period. Character designs are superb, and animation for the first seasons is incredible. The soundtrack also has great numbers for the opening and ending with terrific vocals and upbeat, catchy melodies. The remaining seasons don’t receive the same blessing. With so many talented artists bringing their expertise to this title, Ranma is definitely a must see for anime fans. Although the length does drag the series down, don’t let it turn you off from checking it out. To put it simply, Ranma 1/2 is just as enjoyable now in its unflipped, omnibus form as it was years ago when it was one of my first manga experiences. It has aged well, with the out-and-out lunacy of the story remaining fun and fairly fresh, the art still attractive and not too dated, and a generally entertaining atmosphere. If you've never read it or watched it, this is a good time to do so, because there's a reason people are enamored with this classic. And let’s be honest here— who can’t love a romantic comedy with a few punches thrown around? It’s got something for everyone, young or old, boy or girl (or both!); it is a timeless work of art that should always be remembered in today’s anime scene.

Review by: Sara Perfin | Review Format: DVD | Running Time: 530 Minutes

B-
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