All posts by Brice Boembeke

My first memories of gaming are from when I was 5 years old and my dad got a Commodore 64. It has been almost 30 years and my passion for gaming has only grown. I play a little bit of everything, but am particularly interested in the emergent and unscripted gameplay that comes from open world, sandbox-style online multiplayer games. It is a very exciting time to be a gamer, but I still feel like the best is yet to come. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Teardown Review – PC

Let’s face it, blowing stuff up and breaking stuff is fun. Unfortunately, there are tons of laws and stuff that make blowing stuff up IRL pretty hard to do without a lot of licenses, training, permits, etc, which kind of takes all the fun out of it. And most games that let you blow stuff up only really let you blow up the stuff they want you to blow up. Like, if a game says that it has destructible environments, usually that means that there are predetermined types of things that you can blow holes in or destroy. The only games that do allow full destruction are voxel-based games like Minecraft, or Space Engineers, or 7 Days to Die. Even then, though, these destructible environments have their limits and often feel a bit unnatural.

Teardown, as its name implies, set out with the goal of creating an entirely voxel and physics-based game that is completely destructible. Also, unlike the other games listed, the individual voxels in Teardown are about a tenth the size of those in the other games, which creates a much more detailed and granular environment to interact with.

When Teardown was in early access, there was a sandbox mode with different maps that gave you a series of tools and vehicles that you could use to interact with the map in various ways, breaking things, blowing things up, making interesting things happen, but with no real goal other than just to enjoy yourself. Now, with the release of the final version of the game, they’ve added a full campaign mode that adds quests, characters, and a story to the game.

Essentially, you’re an unscrupulous demolition expert that various people reach out to to hire as the guy that gets things done without asking questions. You then have various specific tasks that you need to complete, like destroying a house, or breaking into a building to steal evidence, etc. These quests start off fairly simple and then ramp up in complexity, adding more layers and also alarms that will trigger and give you a countdown until the police arrive. This forces you to look at the map in different ways and figure out optimal paths in order to accomplish all the goals in the very limited amount of time you have once you trigger the alarms.

The destruction mechanics in the game are really smooth and satisfying. When you knock down a support for something, you can watch it bend, break, or collapse the way you would expect for whatever material it is made out of. Wood, metal, brick, etc, all react in different ways and require different tools to maximize the destruction.

Speaking of tools, you begin the game with a sledgehammer, a fire extinguisher, and a spray can. As you go, you will unlock a number of other things, like a blowtorch or a shotgun that will allow you to interact with the world in new and different ways.

The physics system is not just impressive with solid objects, either, but there is smoke and water that will react to the environment in interesting ways too. Like, if you set fire to a house, smoke will accumulate within the building if there’s no way for it to escape, but then if you break a hole in the ceiling, the smoke will billow out through that hole. It’s all very impressive and leads to limitless combinations of how you manipulate the various maps.

The sandbox modes still exist as well, so once you complete the campaign, you can revisit all of the areas and have fun messing with them in whatever way you want. Also, the game fully supports modding and has a pretty active modding community on Steam, which allows you to play even more community designed missions, maps, and other game modes that modders have come up with. Since the game is so fundamentally versatile, it is pretty much up to the modders imagination what types of things they can create with the impressive engine.

The long and short of it is that Tuxedo Labs have really created something impressive with Teardown. It feels like an evolutionary leap from its voxel-based predecessors and would be a welcome addition to anyone’s library who ever had the desire to just watch the world burn.

LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Review – Xbox Series X

In 2007, I played LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga on the Nintendo Wii. At the time, I thought TT Games had really set the bar on LEGO video games. The game was fun, funny, and perfectly captured the essence of the (at the time) entirety of the existing Star Wars movies. The combination of the magical stories of Star Wars and the whimsy and lightheartedness of LEGO combined together to create a perfect recipe for fun.

Now, 15 years later, TT Games has somehow done it again. When I first saw the announcement for The Skywalker Saga, my first thought was “I already played that game” and wondered if it would even be worth it to get what I assumed would be not much more than a remake, granted with three new movies worth of content tacked on.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The game is so much more than a remake. Obviously, with 15 years of technological advancements, it’s easy to assume that, graphically, the game will look better, and it does. While the various LEGO games have always done a fantastic job of bringing the feel of LEGO to the games, this one has really gone over the top with making everything look and feel like they are made from actual LEGO. The characters even have a subtle plastic-y shine to them. But it’s the magic of getting to play with the LEGO in a way that you never could with real ones that makes The Skywalker Saga so much fun.

Beyond expected visual improvements, the game is so much better than its predecessor in almost every way. Getting to assemble and destroy LEGO structures, discover and collect hidden secrets, building your collection of unlockable and playable characters (around 300 in all), add to the expansive and enjoyable experience of going through each movie moment by moment and feeling the freedom of exploring the major set piece areas of each of the nine Star Wars movies.

TT Games has had plenty of practice to perfect the LEGO game formula over the years. Even from the beginning, there has been a focus on certain puzzles needing certain specific skills or even specific characters to progress. Another thing that is particularly enjoyable with The Skywalker Saga is the focus on cooperation and teamwork to complete challenges.

One of the only things that concerns me with The Skywalker Saga is that there are so many planned DLC packages. I understand that this is the current trend across the board, and these packages are included if you shell out for the Deluxe Edition of the game. These DLC’s, however, look like they’re going to add a lot to the existing base game, even more characters, and stories from the ever-expanding Star Wars franchise, including The Mandalorian series, as well as the spin-off movies like Rogue One and Solo.

The game can be played solo, and is fully enjoyable alone, but really shines when you play it cooperatively. Couch co-op with a friend is so much fun. The game feels like a real LEGO playground that you can mess around in and explore with friends of all ages. As they have always done, too, the perfect mixture of staying true to the stories, as well as throwing in perfectly timed humor never gets old.

Even with my concerns about the DLC trends, I still can’t recommend this game enough. Fans of LEGO would enjoy it without necessarily being fans of Star Wars, and fans of Star Wars would feel the same. People who don’t like either…if they even exist…are probably terribly boring people that wouldn’t like anything at all, so we don’t even need to worry about them. Kidding aside, I think that even people who aren’t a fan of either LEGO or Star Wars would likely be able to find something enjoyable about this game. But those who fall in the middle of this Venn Diagram of fun, would doubtless have a near limitless amount of enjoyment ahead of them with LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.

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Lacuna Review – Switch

Lacuna is unexpected…deceptive even. It looks like a simple, side-scrolling, sci-fi, crime-noir adventure game using retro-styled art. In a lot of ways, that is exactly what it is. But, there is more that lurks beneath that surface. Subtle things that are not readily apparent.

I was initially a bit put-off by the side-scrolling, 2D interface to the game and thought that it would make a mystery game a bit too easy, or maybe just flat. But, even though the game is presented in a two-dimensional way, it is far from flat.

First off, there is a very rich and detailed lore that goes into the worlds of Lacuna. There is a history that weaves a tale of political intrigue and strife. These things are important to the story you find yourself involved with solving. They aren’t just background fluff, there to make you read a bunch of extra stuff to shove the setting down your throat. It is all relevant to your game in some way or other.

In Lacuna, you play as Neil Conrad, a detective for the CDI. You will start the game by investigating the high-profile assassination of a political representative of one of the major factions in the solar system. The death sparks long-standing political arguments, each side claiming that the other could benefit from his death.

One interesting thing about the way that Lacuna works is that there is no save-scumming. In other words, the game saves your progress automatically as you go, and there is no way of manually saving or reloading from a checkpoint. Once you make a decision, you’re stuck with it. And there are a lot of them.

All along the way, you will be forced to make decisions about how to handle certain parts of the investigation, and many of the choices have no obvious “right” answer. Depending on which path you follow, you may uncover new leads, or find yourself having to make some leaps in judgment when moving forward.

The game has another interesting mechanic built in to solving the different parts of the investigation. You will be given a “sheet” on a specific element of the investigation and it will read like a multiple-choice quiz. You will have to fill in the blanks with the correct answers in each of the parts. Sometimes there is only one, but sometimes there are multiple aspects of a sheet and you have to try and get them all correct, otherwise you’ll end up sending the investigation in the wrong direction.

Again, there is no way to try out a certain answer and then go back and try it again. Once you complete a sheet, that’s it, you’re stuck with your answers, right or wrong. I really love this aspect of the game. So many similar games allow you to backtrack and play it “right”, which kind of takes away from the immersion. In this game, you know that each decision has weight. Another thing that is cool is that being “wrong” doesn’t necessarily mean “game over”. I can imagine that this also lends itself to people playing through the game multiple times just to see how it might have played out differently if they’d made different choices.

Another aspect of the game that I appreciated was the atmosphere. While it is a 2D side-scroller, they still managed to make it feel three-dimensional with highly detailed backgrounds and even things passing in the foreground in front of your character, as well, making the world feel vibrant, full, and alive. Also, while the graphics are retro-styled, there is a very detailed lighting system, where as you pass through various areas, your character will be illuminated in different ways, and from different angles by streetlights, neon, the glow of a cigarette burning, etc. I thought this was such a nice touch and something that really made the game feel more rich and alive. As well, the sounds were very immersive, with the music and background sounds changing dynamically to fit the environment. There is also some voice-over narration for the protagonist, which is done in a very noir-esque tone and fits the game’s feel very well.

One of the things that I always hated about the old-school point-and-click adventure games was having to go around and pixel-hunt your way to solving the mysteries, just randomly clicking on everything you could find in hopes of finding the right clue. Well, in Lacuna, you don’t have to worry about that. Instead, you have a kind of 2D version of Witcher-senses. On the Switch, you press the Y button and a bubble will appear around your character, which represents you investigating the area. If there is anything like a clue nearby, it will be highlighted with a kind of reticle that you can then select and investigate the clue in detail.

Ultimately, I thought Lacuna was a really well-done game. While the story is reported to take the average player somewhere between five to seven hours to complete, it does, as mentioned before, lend itself to be played multiple times in order to discover all of the eight possible endings depending on the choices that you make along the way.

Lacuna is for anyone who digs a good story, some sci-fi noir aesthetics, a good mystery, and a game that encourages you to have to make some tough calls, ethically, morally, and professionally.

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Sable Review – PC

Where do I even start? First of all, this game is beautiful and poignant. It articulates the journey we all face in a peaceful, unexpected, and inviting way. It talks about growing up and leaving home. It talks about struggling with leaving the ones you love and knowing that they want you to take those steps toward becoming who you are meant to be. It is about looking back and also longing for home. It is also about yearning for adventure and savoring the moment. It is about striving to better yourself, or define yourself. It is about appreciating those who came before and honoring tradition, while discovering your own path and following your own destiny.

This game came at a perfect time for me. I recently lost someone very close to me. This game deals with loss. The loss that is necessary in life to move forward. The sacrifice that is necessary to be whole. While playing, there were moments that spoke to me so fully that I had to just set the controller down and stare at the screen through tears.

I love this game for so many reasons. The somewhat minimalistic music, composed and performed by Japanese Breakfast, is perfectly suited to the quasi-post apocalyptic setting. Similarly, the art-style of Sable is reminiscent of retro-futuristic sci-fi comic book artwork the likes of Moebius. The day-night cycle of the world goes from bathing the world in amazingly rich and vibrant colors during the day to an almost-monotone of blue and gray at night.

As you embark on your Gliding playing as the titular character, Sable, you will encounter unique characters and fascinating stories. You will learn the mysterious lore of the alien planet that you live on. As you climb, jump, and puzzle your way through various derelict ships or constructs from a different time, you’ll feel almost like Rey from The Force Awakens scavenging bits from massive wrecks of a time long passed. Helping you with your traversal is the ability to “glide” by focusing on a powerful stone that creates a force-field of sorts around you and allows you to slowly descend, rather than fall, similar to the glider in Breath of the Wild.

You will spend a fair amount of time aboard Simoon, your hand-crafted hoverbike that you can modify and paint as you go by buying new parts from Machinists at various settlements. The hoverbike is your unwavering and constant companion in your journey, much like a horse or loyal dog. It will get you to where you need to go, smoothly arcing over the rolling sand dunes of the planet, a sensation that feels pretty good in the game, though the hoverbike has a tendency to nose-dive and crash instead of gliding smoothly after larger “jumps”. This, hopefully, will be something that is fixed or improved in time.

Your ultimate goal is to attain a new mask that identifies you as a member of whatever profession or path you choose as your own. While there is this end goal, the way you get there and the path you take along the way is completely up to you. There is no “right” way to play the game, and the individual quests are usually designed with a fairly open feel to them, giving you a real sense of freedom and discovery every step of the way.

This game is obviously a passion project by the two-person team that developed it and I think that it is one to be proud of. For anyone who is in search of a game that they can just play without any sense of urgency or tension, a game they can thoroughly enjoy and immerse themselves within, I would highly recommend Sable.

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Elite Dangerous: Odyssey Review – PC

I’ve been following the development of Elite: Dangerous for quite some time now and what a ride it’s been. I have always been infatuated with the idea of what Elite: Dangerous wanted to do. The potential was astounding. The promise was unbelievable. The vision was palpable and glorious and everything that a true sci-fi nerd wanted out of a space sim game. A fully simulated 1:1 scale model of the Milky Way Galaxy? Holy crap. Every star system explorable? Yes please. A complex, simulated background economy? What? Factions that ebb and flow through expansion, negotiations, war, and politics that can be directly influenced by the players’ actions? You’re kidding. But it’s true. It’s all true, to a certain extent.

And then there were the rumors. Wild, crazy rumors that eventually, you’d be able to walk around! You wouldn’t just be locked into the cockpit of your ship, or your SRV (the deployable ground vehicle to explore planet surfaces that was released with the Horizons expansion). No, there was promise that your Commander would be under your direct control with the ability to walk around inside space stations, interact directly with other NPC’s and players alike, and even explore planets and settlements on foot! It seemed almost too good to be true.

And for years it was. But there were still the rumors that eventually, it would come to be a reality. That day did finally come, with the release of the Odyssey expansion to the base game. And holy crap do people hate it.  Something happened. I don’t know what. Maybe it wasn’t just one thing. Maybe COVID had something to do with it. Maybe pushing something incomplete out the door to please investors had something to do with it. Maybe crunch had something to do with it. Maybe Frontier doesn’t care about making a great game anymore and is focusing their attention elsewhere. I have no idea.

What I do know is that the Odyssey expansion seems to have created more problems than it solved. Yes, you can get out of your ship and walk around stations and certain planets (only ones with no or limited atmospheres, but none yet that are heavily populated or that have lush atmospheres). But what you do on foot seems to be fairly limited to either infiltrating, attacking, or rescuing various settlements on these barren rocks, or exploring to try and find rare xenobiological samples of strange alien flora.

I’m not going to go into great detail about the fact that you can’t walk around inside your own ship, which to me seems to be a huge missed opportunity for all sorts of interesting gameplay like hands-on repairs, EVA missions to other ships, more immersive multiplayer opportunities, etc. But, as of right now, it seems that Frontier’s intentions are not to work on ship interiors in the foreseeable future.

Gone also is the option of playing this new expansion in VR, which, for many, was a huge draw for playing the game in the first place. On top of that, the look and feel of the game has seemingly changed at an almost core level. The lighting is different. Stations emit a strange and unnatural looking glow. Lights are emissive in a hazy, over-saturated kind of way. Planets took a hit, too with drastic shifts to the way that planets look both from a distance and up close.

A game that once created a sensation of flying through a simulacrum of our own galaxy has become a caricature of itself. It feels artificial and weird and broken in fundamental ways. Even under the hood, there are reports that the expansion has broken the BGS (background simulation, running all the economy, factions, politics, etc.) and that much of this is due to the fact that they’ve basically divided the game into two instances that have to remain synced until the Odyssey expansion is released to consoles as well.

But the developers assure us that they’re working on it. They understand that people aren’t happy and they’re trying to figure out what happened. Currently, as of the writing of this review, the game’s expansion sits at a “Mostly Negative” rating on Steam, which is shameful for a franchise that has been such a stalwart name in the genre for so very, very long.

I can’t help but be reminded of how I felt when the game first released. I recall being sold by the fancy words and promises of amazing things to come during the crowdfunding campaign. I believed that all of these shiny amazing things were right around the corner. That the “mile wide and an inch deep” gameplay would soon gain depth. But, I feel like I’ve been had. I feel like I was sold a lie. That the ocean keeps getting wider, but no less shallow. There is more to do in the game now than there was at the time it was originally released, but with this new expansion, it almost serves as a rude reminder of all of the things we were promised that we still have never gotten. Like, with the ability to walk would come the ability to go on a safari on a strange world and hunt alien big game, just as an example.

I know that making games is not easy. And I know that it takes time to put all of these moving pieces together and make them play nicely with each other. But I also know that with each iteration of expansions, I keep feeling like I’m just being given a fraction of what was promised, hoping that I’ll forget what it was supposed to be.

I want to love Elite Dangerous: Odyssey. As it stands right now, I don’t love it, but I still hold out hope that it will improve. I hold out hope that it was pushed out the door early and that they are still behind the scenes diligently working on adding more and improved content to deepen the pool and not just widen it more. I hold out hope that someday I’ll be able to walk around on a proper planet with vegetation, animals, and the like a la No Man’s Sky and fly around in the actual atmosphere and then land and explore. I even hold out hope that someday I’ll be able to visit a planet with cities, like Earth. But I know that those hopes are as tiny and distant as the stars in the sky.

In the end, I will say that Elite will always hold a special place in my heart. It captures some mystical aspect of space exploration and adventure that no other game of its kind has ever done before or since. It is a hopeful, amazing, grandiose attempt at creating an amazing game. It has just fallen short of the mark so many times that I wonder if it will ever make it.

Here’s to hope. Here’s to Odyssey becoming the expansion that it was meant to be. Maybe by the time it is ready to be released to consoles as well, there will be a reckoning of the code bases and things will improve. Who knows. Time will tell.   But how much time? And will there be anyone there at the end?

Cloudpunk – City of Ghosts Review – PC

Have you ever watched Blade Runner and wished, just wished that you could exist in the city for a while? Like, not as Deckard, but just in the background. Flying one of the hover cars around the city. If so, Cloudpunk is for you. This game is the perfect emulator for just that particular desire.

Cloudpunk caught me off guard. I dug its retro-esque voxel-based graphical style. I immersed myself in the rain-streaked, neon-coated vibe of the city of Nivalis. I loved the characters and their many, unexpectedly poignant stories. I found myself surprised by the subtlety by which the game created tension without violence.

The game was pretty great when it first released and then, the developers added first person modes to the walking and driving portions, which just made the experience even more immersive. It was almost like playing a brand new game.

Then, they released City of Ghosts, which is a full story expansion DLC to the base game. It is so intricately developed and written that it is essentially a sequel to the original game. For those who played the original, you can look forward to picking up with Rania, Camus, and Pashta, discovering the next chapter in their story. Additionally, you will also play as a second main character named Hayse, whose attitude and character is very different from Rania’s.

Not only is there a whole new story to engage with, but the game itself has been upgraded with some improved graphical effects. Notably, the faces of characters are more detailed now, with more, smaller voxels making up the faces, giving them more unique appearances. Also, the customization options for your HOVA (hover car) have been given a complete overhaul, allowing you to tweak the look and feel of the car to your heart’s content.

And if you enjoyed the moral and ethical dilemmas that the first game presented you, you’ll be pleased to know that there are many more where that came from. Even within the first few minutes of the game, you’re making tough calls about how to proceed.

On top of everything else, I feel like profits from the original went toward hiring a higher tier of voice actors for the DLC, because the fully voiced characters sound much more natural this time around, which was probably one of my only minor gripes with the original game.

Overall, Cloudpunk has been one of those games that I thought I’d play for a couple of hours, experience the “gimmick” and then move onto something else, but this really got under my skin with its unique style, chill but engaging gameplay, and immersive storytelling and atmosphere. I keep going back to it and now that City of Ghosts is here, I’ve got plenty more Nivalis to explore and enjoy.

I can easily and confidently recommend this title plus it’s amazing DLC to anyone, whether you’re returning to Nivalis or exploring it for the first time, it is quite a treasure of a game to add to your library.

 

Yupitergrad Review – Oculus Quest

Yupitergrad is the game that you get when you get a group of people who really want to make a game with swinging mechanics for VR that captures the feel of what it would be like to be Spider Man, but didn’t want to try and get the rights to using the Spider Man image at all. Instead, they really thought outside the box and invented their own alternate-history vision of a space-faring Soviet cosmonaut program where the way they figured out how to allow people to move around freely in Jupiter’s atmosphere was by attaching devices to both of your arms that turn your hands into suction cups attached to ropes and winches. Also, you have little jet boosters, but they’re only good for small movements in air and for moving around better underwater.

You are sent to Jupiter where there is a station that extracts gasses from the atmosphere and converts it into power. As might be expected, upon arrival, things aren’t working quite the way they’re supposed to be working. The station is in disrepair, nothing seems to be working correctly, and it seems that you are the only one around to do anything about it. What happened to the others? Who knows? They probably died trying to fix the problem, which, you will probably do a few times yourself along the way. I know I did.

The art style of Yupitergrad is very minimalistic, with surfaces being very uniformly colored in an almost cartoonish look. Blue surfaces are ones that your plunger hands are able to suction onto. There are other things that you can interact with using your plunger-guns. Yellow grates, for instance, are things that you can grapple and then pull to open, allowing you access to areas that are otherwise blocked. You can also push buttons with your suction cups.

Movement is done by alternating your arms to swing across the ceiling, attaching both cups at the same time and then pulling quickly to launch yourself very far and very fast. A combination of these two approaches is what you need to use to cross the various obstacles and puzzles that the game presents you with.

Playing in VR was quite fun and very immersive; however it did cause me to have a very strong motion-sickness type reaction that I am not used to experiencing with other VR games. I am not sure if it was just that the swinging motion caught me off guard and if I played more frequently I would get used to it, but that was my initial experience with the game as a word of warning to anyone who is prone to feeling motion-induced illness in VR games.

Aside from feeling a bit queasy, I did really enjoy the way you moved in the game, but got frustrated slightly when my character would clip with the geometry of the world and get stuck, even though I felt like I should be able to pull myself up and over an obstacle. This only happened occasionally, but it was enough to make me feel like it wasn’t as smooth as I hoped it would be.

Finding the rhythm of the swinging and learning how to control the winch of your arm by raising and lowering your arm, or by using the thumbsticks to pull the rope in or let it out to change the length of your swings was a bit of a learning curve, but after a while it began to feel very natural. I particularly enjoyed the double-stick and pull method (if that’s what it’s called…if not, that’s what it’s called now). It gives you a real sense of speed and excitement as you’re just flying through the air and then swinging again with all that momentum.

There is a campaign to the game which has a cool story that has you progressing through the station and fixing problems as you go. There is also an option to go back and replay levels to try and get fastest times with leaderboards and everything.

As far as first person swinging games go, I did enjoy Yupitergrad, particularly because it knows not to take itself seriously. Shooting suction cups at things, for some reason, never gets old. Having recently reviewed Cyber Hook, which is not a VR game (yet), I would say that this does not quite hit the same stride as Cyber Hook with regard to that feeling of speed and freedom, as most of the puzzles are in tunnels and more enclosed spaces than what you get in the other game. But, as I said before this game knows what it is and does that thing really, really well.

Jurassic World Evolution: Complete Edition Review – Switch

There are a lot of games out there that have you managing parks or cities or businesses or other institutions of one kind or another. Put “Sim” before something, or “Tycoon” after something, and there have been any number of games that have given the player the power to construct and manage the daily workings of many different things. There have even been other games that have simulated running a dinosaur park. However, Jurassic World Evolution is the only game that allows you to build and manage a park within the lore of the Jurassic Park/World franchise and enjoy all the different aspects of that world that you’ve grown to know through the movies.

Jurassic World Evolution: Complete Edition is out now for the Nintendo Switch and it gives Switch owners a chance to play the game with all of its addons and DLC right out of the box. Though the Switch is a less powerful machine than the other current gen consoles, the port of Jurassic World still looks and runs very well on the Switch. Clever uses of blur and levels of detail shifts, I think, are what help the game run as well as it does on the Switch, even in handheld mode.

You’ll start the game by going to the first of five islands in the Muertes Archipelago called Isla Matanceros, where you’ll be given the basic beginnings of a park and the funds and guidance (through contracts) to get the park off the ground and start attracting guests. You do this by building the various facilities needed to research, incubate, house, and control the dinosaurs that you’ll be creating for the park, but also the hotels, restaurants, bathrooms, and network of roads and power that will allow patrons and employees alike to traverse the public areas of the park.

You’ll also need to constantly be seeking out new genetic data to breed as many of the 68 available dinosaur species available in the game by sending dig teams to various parts of the world to find fossils that you can use to extract the genome information from. The more complete the genome you have, the more likely your dinosaur will be of reaching full incubation status.  Keeping an eye on each and every dinosaur and their needs is also important. You will need to keep them fed and healthy or else they will become much more difficult to manage. Accidentally putting carnivores in with herbivores is also inadvisable, unless you want your guests to witness a very expensive massacre.

Occasionally, forces outside of your control will affect your park as well. Extreme weather can cause electrical outages that will then weaken your ability to contain your dangerous species, sometimes resulting in their escape into the public areas of the park. Guest deaths will happen, but having units on the ready with the necessary equipment to mitigate such a disaster is part of any good park manager’s contingency plan. You will have the ability to dispatch helicopters that you can then take control of, flying them toward the escaped dinosaur and then shooting them with tranquilizer darts to disable them. You can then send in another helicopter to pick up the unconscious dinosaur and take it back to where it is supposed to be.  You will also be able to explore the parks in the iconic Jeep Wranglers and Ford Explorers from the movies, as well as being able to build and control the Gyrospheres. These unlock at later stages in the game, but it is definitely worth the effort, as they are a very cool way to be able to experience the park that you’ve spent so much time managing.

Frontier Developments is no stranger to park management games, and they have brought all of that experience to bear on this game. There is a lot of freedom given to the player to build the game in the way that you envision your perfect dino park and the more you do, the more challenging it becomes to maintain everything without losing control. But, even when that happens, when a dino breaks out of its enclosure and starts wreaking havoc on the guests, it’s an awesome moment in the game, because you feel like you’re re-enacting moments from the movies. It’s almost like that’s when the game evolves from a park management game into an action adventure game of your own design.

The Complete Edition for the Switch really brings a lot of depth and detail to the game. There are so many different dinosaurs to breed, with genetic modifications that you can research to try and make them even more unique, plus the various locations that you can unlock to build your different parks, that the game really seems pretty limitless. There is a campaign mode that will kind of walk you through the basics and get you going on the path toward success, but there are also sandbox modes that you can unlock that allow you to really get creative with how you play the game.  I think the only real downside to the game is that at its core, there really is a bit of repetitiveness to the way things go, but this is overcome by the sheer number of variables that you will end up introducing that interrupt that loop and send it off on strange new tangents as you go.

Usually, sim tycoon type games end up boring me, or frustrating me because you’ll spend a lot of time working on making something and then it either gets destroyed and you feel like all that work was for nothing, or it’ll work really well and you just kind of sit back and watch for a while until you decide you want to do something else. With Jurassic World Evolution, I feel like you’re always having to stay engaged with the park in order to keep it running smoothly and if/when something does go wrong, it isn’t a feeling of “game over” it’s more a feeling of “we’re doing this now” and you shift gears into containment mode. It’s quite an interesting twist to the tried and true format of this genre of game, in my opinion.

The fact that you get to breed and see these legendary creatures up close and watch as they go about their daily lives (which, the AI for the dinosaurs is really quite impressive to watch, as they roam for food, fight, evade, ect) is pretty awesome all by itself. But then, you get to take the happiness of the visitors into consideration and work on building an interesting, engaging park that people want to come to, as well. All the while, you’ll be taking contracts from the different divisions of the park (Science, Entertainment, and Security), all of whom have different ideas on how to make the park the best it can be. You’ll have to choose who you think has the best plan, or try and find some happy balance between all three. These, and other characters from the movies are voiced by their original actors. You’ll even hear Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neil, and Laura Dern return as the voices of their characters at various parts of the game.

All in all, I would say that I was pleasantly surprised by Jurassic World Evolution: Complete Edition on the Switch. I think it’s a great game, especially for the Switch, as a game like this lends itself very well to be played in handheld mode while you’re on a road trip or watching something on TV at the same time, or whatnot. It’s an involved game, but you don’t have to be staring at it non-stop, either. Sometimes, you can just sit back and let the park go through it’s day and hope that the electric fences hold.

Blair Witch Review – Oculus Quest

I remember when The Blair Witch Project came out in theaters in 1999. I remember the marketing campaign, leading up to the release, treating the movie as if it were a collection of found-videos put together revealing some horrific event that actually happened in the woods. I remember the feeling of unease and terror as the movie progressed, watching as the mystery of the Blair Witch slowly developed.

Something about the way that movie was told, with the “scary thing” never really being explained, really stuck with me. There was this sense of constant dread that permeated the movie. I can say, without a doubt, that the game does a fantastic job of putting that same sense of unrelenting, building terror into a video game. Playing in VR is altogether unnerving. They give you just enough of a life-line to allow you to keep convincing yourself that you’ll be alright, but creeping in the back of your mind, the whole time, is that little voice that keeps telling you that something…something is going to get you. You just don’t know what it will be, or how it will happen, or where it will come from.

Bullet is one of your main lifelines. Bullet is an awesome German Shepherd that accompanies you. It is cool to have a dog companion that you can have scout ahead, fetch things for you, follow the scent of the missing child you’re looking for, or just sit next to you so you can pet him and feel better about your situation. It is cool to have that, but they also make it a necessity, in the game. The character you play as, Ellis, suffers from some pretty serious PTSD and Bullet is one of the only things that keeps him level. If Bullet strays too far away for too long, or you get separated from him, you will begin to have an episode. The world around you will begin to shift and trick you in different ways. There will be sounds from that traumatic incident that, when you start playing, you’re not quite sure exactly what it was. But as you play, you’ll begin to learn more and more about that incident, all while exploring the forest as a member of the local search party trying to find a missing boy.

Blair Witch is an exploration game where you’re constantly on the hunt for clues. The clues you find might be helping you figure out what happened to the missing boy, or they might be clues to a bigger mystery that you begin to uncover as you roam the woods alone (except for Bullet). The game fits well into the established lore of the Blair Witch from the movies, with hints toward some of those past incidents being interwoven into your current situation as well.

Overall, I think that the tone of the game was really well-executed. I was on edge the entire time I played constantly having to remind myself that it was just a game. Being in VR makes that immersion even more intense than if it were being played on a screen. It’s harder to disengage from it if it gets to be too much. One of the only things that detracted from that total immersion, for me, was the fact that the graphics had to be somewhat flattened and simplified in order to maintain the smoother performance needed on the Oculus system. I think that this downgrade in graphics is something that most Oculus users will just understand is part of the package. What the game lacks in visual detail, however, I think it tries to make up for in added immersion. You can pet Bullet or play fetch with him using sticks that you find laying around the woods. The sound effects are spot on, making you feel like the woods go on forever around you, with the constant, eerie sounds of nature happening all around you.

Bullet is your constant companion. Like I said, he’s the thing that keeps you tied to whatever sanity you have left. But, there are times that the AI that governs Bullet goes a little screwy. When I first saw him, he was running in place with his head and shoulders clipped through the back end of a police car. There are times that he will glide or slide along the ground unnaturally, or sprint ahead at an unrealistic speed, or walk “through” you, which is really a strange sensation when you’re in VR. It seems like a small gripe, but like I said, Bullet is often your main focus in the game, so when he acts unnaturally and it draws you out of that sense of being fully immersed in the horror of the world around you, making it feel artificial, it can take away from the overall mood.

Ultimately, I think Blair Witch is a good horror game that seems to be suited really well to the VR environment. I can’t wait for the day that we don’t have to worry about graphical downgrades between versions, though, but right now I think it’s just a reality that VR users are going to have to accept as a tradeoff for the added level of immersion that you get for being able to be “in the game” versus playing it on the screen.

If you want to play a game that puts you in the forest where people have been disappearing for decades, with strange, eerie things happening all around you, or if you’re just a fan of the movies, I would recommend this game.