Category Archives: Game Reviews

Hard West 2 Review – PC

Dying of dysentery is the least of your worries in Hard West 2. Ice Code Game’s sequel brings the weird west back to the turn-based tactics genre with a mix of zombies, witches, and the occult. It has its share of issues, but with some fun combat mechanics and an interesting world, Hard West 2 is more than just “another XCOM.”

Thankfully, you don’t have to play the original to keep up with what’s going on in Hard West 2. You join Gin Carter and his posse mid train robbery of the legendary Ghost Train. The ragtag outlaws discover the train is true to its name when they find the devil aboard. In a wager gone wrong, the posse loses their souls in a rigged game of poker. They soon set out to take them back the only way they know how, one bloody shootout at a time. Hats off to the beautifully animated cutscenes that play between major points in the game, which add to the dark moody atmosphere of the world.

Hard West 2’s combat can leave you feeling like a badass outlaw. Each character is given three action points to spend per turn, with attacks usually taking two points, and moving or using items taking one point. The real butter on this biscuit is the Bravado mechanic. Characters that kill an enemy, get their action points reset, effectively giving them an additional turn. This is super useful, considering you are almost always outnumbered by the enemy. Chaining together numerous Bravados can change the tide of battle and turn the odds in your favor.

Later encounters do bring spongier enemies, which in turn can lessen the likelihood of Bravado combos. These gun fights can turn defensive, with both sides digging in their heels and waiting out the enemy. The overwatch mechanic you’ve grown to expect in the genre is absent, which makes sense with the presence of Bravado, but this does make defensive games drag out a bit. Later encounters in the game are hard, but never unforgiving. You may reload an encounter here or there, but it never becomes a major reoccurrence.

Each of your characters also brings a unique ability to help break up the cycle of shoot, move, and repeat. One standout belongs to Lynn, with her ability to change spots with any enemy or ally in her range. This opens you up for so many combos. Charging forward with Lynn and then switching places with melee specialist, Laughing Deer, can result in multiple beatdowns in quick succession. Lynn’s ability can also plant Old Man Bill directly in an enemy nest to set off his bullet barrage ability with its large AoE.

Two other standout mechanics are the trick-shot and luck. Trick-shot allows you to bounce your bullets off elements around the map in an effort to hit enemies in cover. Luck increases hit chance following misses in previous turns. Trick-shot adds some variety to the combat and makes you rethink situations as you enter new areas. Luck you really don’t notice until you need more of it.

Like any turn-based tactics game you’re going to find yourself cursing at misses that “should have” hit. You’re also going to be hit by things that “shouldn’t have” hit. There were a few instances where I found myself getting creamed in what I thought was an excellent piece of cover. The maps are huge and there is plenty of cover. Sadly, there is no cosmetic damage to the environment.  Areas hit with TNT, look like they just got swept clean moments later.

Another downside to the map size is that you find yourself having to walk into fights, which can put you out of position for a fight. For example, in one mission I teleported Lynn into a sniper position, which revealed enemies across the street, out of range of the current fight. These enemies were then able to move into position while I still worked to clear out the current building. This only happened a few times, but when it did, it was an annoyance that lengthened out some fights.

Outside of combat, Hard West 2’s story is driven through an overworld map. Here you’ll find points of interest, shops, and set up campfires. This is where the RPG elements of the game shine. You’ll build relationships with members of your posse, revealing more of their backstory. All this plays out in text exchange, with some voice acting thrown in here and there. The voice acting is okay when it’s there, but it’s not saying much that you haven’t heard in other westerns.

Playing cards can be found around the map and used to buff your characters by building a poker hand. Just like actual poker, the best results come from the better poker hands. You can also find weapons for sale as well as other accessories. Finding the perfect mix of weapons, accessories, and playing cards, can make all the difference in combat. My personal favorite is a speedy Laughing Deer, equipped with TNT, just in case things get messy.

For those looking for a turn-based tactics fix, Hard West 2 offers up a great challenge. It’s carried by its weird western themes and its Bravado mechanic, and at 20+ hours to complete the main story, it’d be hard to turn your nose up to the $30 asking price. For a game featuring characters missing their souls, there’s a lot of soul to be had in Hard West 2.

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Outbreak: Contagious Memories Review – Xbox Series S|X

Outbreak: Contagious Memories wants to take you back to a time when tank controls felt immersive. Where a well-designed horror game made you feel vulnerable and unsure of what lies around the corner. The 90’s horror games of yore were a diamond in the rough, but three decades of innovation have made them impenetrable without modernization. Outbreak Contagious Memories wastes no time making comparisons to early Resident Evil and Silent Hill. However, it’s a bill of goods that the game doesn’t come close to delivering. Graphics, controls, combat, puzzles seem more of a proof of concept rather than a commercial product due to quality.

Dead Drop Studios is porting Contagious Memories, one of several games in a series, to the Xbox Series platform. While the marketing indicates that it is taking advantage of new hardware, it’s apparent from the get-go, that this is simply a port. Nearly every action outside of gameplay will force a loading screen. Hitting pause, opening a door, and navigating one or two clicks deep into a menu, all cause a brief loading screen. It’s jarring and while I’m not a developer, it makes me ask the question, why does a native game with such simple levels require a landing screen given the SSD and speed of these consoles?

You play as Lydia who wakes up to a city undergoing the early hours of zombie infection. While getting the lay of the land you must find a way to escape by managing your resources, shooting monsters, and solving puzzles. The game attempts to apply pressure by giving you limited resources to clear each section of a level, solve a puzzle, and keep moving towards leaving town. The game also features a coop mode where you must share resources.  While I appreciate the goal of wanting to transport me back to the 90s and make a campy experience that gives me feelings of nostalgia, I found the game to be too frustrating to be able to appreciate the aim of the developer.

Outbreak: Contagious Memories gives you the option to choose between fixed camera, over-the-shoulder, and first-person perspective. While It’s a good idea to give players choice when revisiting a more reductive level design, the controls, locomotion, and aiming were so clunky none of the schemes felt at all playable. Similar to when Grand Theft Auto V added first-person to their third-person game, your character has the momentum to overcome before and after indicating walking. It gives the controls a loose feeling that makes it difficult to line up shots, with your limited ammo as a zombie takes sometimes 6-10 shots to kill!

To add insult to injury, the aim-assist system is so broken that you’ll end up wasting shots and get your health chipped away. This is evident especially when shooting the dog enemies in the game. As the dogs run towards you, the auto-aim in first person locks on above the dog’s character model. I can only suspect that this is what happens when you apply the same auto-aim mechanics to a character model that is 1/3 the size of the zombie character model. I understand a design choice of wanting to not feature the overly sticky auto-aim of modern games, but this game’s aiming mechanic is broken not challenging.

I had to restart from scratch two different times when I would reach a new room and not have enough ammunition to clear the enemies or even begin to read whatever note was left behind to solve a puzzle. For that reason, I ended up not even finishing the game but instead spent my time sussing out all the ways this game trips over itself and tries to call it nostalgia.

I can put up with campy and silly callbacks to 90’s horror games, I was there and loved discovering the genre moving into the 3D realm, but I can’t describe this game as a finished commercial product. Enemies clipping in and out of each other as they shamble towards you while you empty shot after shot into them, dogs levitating back up from the ground after you’ve spent all your ammo shooting behind them, clogged levels that have you endlessly backtracking and seeing a loading screen for the 5th time in three minutes of playing, it all robs the experience of any fun you could have.

Outbreak: Contagious Memories is a part of a series that can be found on Limited Run Games, Stadia, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, and Steam. It’s normally priced between 10 and 30 dollars and I have to say it certainly smells like shovelware. Furthermore, Dead Drop Studios is launching a Kickstarter this month to fundraise. It’s certainly a harsh criticism, and I’m sure someone else may resonate more with the design intent, but I can’t recommend you spend your money or time on this title. I’d be suspicious of other games in the franchise given how many platforms it’s been ported to. If you’re looking for a nostalgia kick, I’d look somewhere else.

Turbo Golf Racing Early Access Review – PC

This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.

As I was approaching hour ten of my marathon session of Turbo Golf Racing, I started to write this review in my head and even jot down some notes; the entire time desperately trying to find a way to finish my review without ever mentioning the words “Rocket League”.  It just isn’t possible.  Everything from the core gameplay design to the look of the cars and even the imagery used for thumbnails on steam and the in-game splash screens all owe their existence to a little soccer game that released in July of 2015.

Much of Rocket League’s initial success was due to Sony giving the game away for free, which instantly created a thriving community that persisted, as the car-soccer game eventually released on other systems, bringing cross-platform play and expanding the online community even further.  Rocket League became my go-to game when seeking some fast and casual gaming, and I quickly logged over 1,200 hours across PC, PlayStation, and Xbox.  Eventually, Epic would make the game exclusive to their store, and Rocket League got infused with so much monetization, battle pass, and blueprint nonsense that I uninstalled the game several years ago and have never gone back.

Sure, Turbo Golf Racing brings back fond memories of playing sports in cars.  After all, Rocket League offered basketball and hockey variations to its line-up.  Golf was the inevitable next step since bumping a ball into a giant “net” isn’t that different from knocking a ball into a giant hole after bumping it down a fairway 20-30 times.  But there are still plenty of distinctive elements to make Turbo Golf Racing just as addicting and challenging to play as Rocket League was back in its prime…before it turned into a money-pit.  But enough about Rocket League.

Turbo Golf Racing is very simple, especially in this state of Early Access with 30 courses available for solo play.  These are divided into three sets of ten holes, which you must complete within a set time limit.  There are three time goals for each hole, each rewarding a star for finishing under that time, and your access to additional holes is unlocked by earning stars in previous holes.  At the time of this review, I have two stars on every hole, which is basically required to access/complete all 30 holes.  Going back and earning that third star is a challenge I look forward to in my future spare time.

But all of this solo play is mere practice for the online golf game that awaits once you have learned how to play golf with a fancy sports car or truck.  Vehicle choice is limited for now, but you do unlock new vehicles through normal level-up progression. Regardless of your finishing position you will still earn XP and Gears during each match; the former increasing your level and earning you a prize at each tier, while the latter is used as currency for the in-game store where you can buy visual upgrades for your car, ball, and other flashy effects.  While not as vast as the parts selection in Rocket League, at least in Turbo Golf Racing you are actually earning “real stuff” and not silly blueprints that only unlock the privilege of buying later with real money.

Nearly all of the upgrades are visual in nature; a new paint job, a flashy spoiler, or a dangerous looking plow for the front of the vehicle to knock the ball around.  Some upgrades (Cores) do offer limited performance boosts, but these are nicely balanced with their own negative effects; like increasing your boost speed at the cost of slowing down how fast the meter refills.  Basically, the entire game is about the skill of the player and not the capabilities of the car, but it is still fun to mix and match up to two Cores per vehicle and see how it affects your game.

You’ll definitely need to prepare your ego before playing Turbo Golf Racing because unlike Rocket League you probably aren’t going to win…at least as often.  In Rocket League you had teammates and Lady Luck to help keep that win-loss ratio in check, but here you are in an 8-player scramble to get that ball from tee to hole in the fastest time.  Other players’ balls and cars are ghost images, only there for visual reference with one exception…rockets and shields.  So far, this is the only interaction you can have with other players.  By driving through power-up icons on the course you can collect lock-on rockets to fire at opponents to slow them down.  You can also collect shields to trigger when somebody shoots a rocket at you.  This element of the game either needs to be expanded with more weapons and defensive gadgets or just dropped entirely and keep the game all about the golf.

Controls are pretty excellent, at least when playing with a gamepad, and Turbo Golf Racing “feels” exactly like Rocket League with the same turbo, e-brake, drift, and jump mechanics.  There are fun “secrets” to figure out like getting a boost off the starting line or flipping your car to create a momentary shield to protect from a rocket attack.  The game does require more precision than Rocket League.  In that game you just hit the ball in the general direction of the net and there was a chance it would go in.  Here, you are going to need to hit the ball 20-30 times or more just to get it to the hole, so each shot needs to be accurate otherwise you end up chasing the ball around.

For me, the camera was a big part of improving my scores.  For the first 2-3 hours there was something just “off” about the game.  I couldn’t hit the ball straight to save my life, and I was constantly zigzagging back and forth across the half-pipe style fairways.  Then I realized the camera defaults to ball-lock; a mode available in Rocket League but one I never mastered.  In this view the car and ball are always in view, which means your angle of attack is always coming from the side.  Switching to normal view you are able to line-up and hit the ball more accurately, and I was able to shave tens of seconds off my time.

Presentation is top-quality with simple menus, fun car designs with clever animations that almost makes them seem to dance to the fun songs that make up the soundtrack, and visually distinct parts for your shopping pleasure.  The same D-pad chat system found in Rocket League has been adapted for this game but uses adorable emoticons rather than text phrases.  Matchmaking is fast, averaging 30 seconds to assemble eight players of which 2-3 almost always “disconnect” before it’s over.  There are three holes per match, each taking one or two minutes to finish based on length and complexity.  You’re awarded points based on your finishing position, and the sum of all three holes determines the winner.

Course design is excellent with various themed environments and fairways that curve and twist their way to the hole with natural hazards like tall grass, rocks, and sand mixed with game-altering boosts like speed pads for your car and boost rings for your ball.  Mastering these time-saving devices are crucial in locking down those winning times.  Many courses are suspended above a void, and it is all too easy to hit the ball completely off the narrow course for an OB time penalty before the game resets your car and ball.

Playing online is really no different than the solo challenges.  There is still that feeling of playing alone 95% of the time, with other players merely becoming a visual distraction until they fire a rocket at you.  Hopefully new modes will get introduced to flesh out the multiplayer offerings.  I’d like to see some co-op and team modes perhaps.  How cool would it be for a two-player team to work together to get the ball down the fairway and into the hole by taking alternating shots on the same ball? Split-screen local play please or how about removing the timer and having a mode that counts your “strokes”.  I’ve got so many ideas I want to join the dev team before the game leaves Early Access.  Just please keep the game free after purchase and don’t get greedy and ruin the game like Rocket League did.

Will Turbo Golf Racing overtake Rocket League in popularity?  Probably not, but who knows…in five years this could be the new e-sports phenomenon.  Only time will tell, but I can guarantee I’ll still be playing this for years to come.  I’ve always enjoyed golf more than soccer, basketball, and hockey combined, so Turbo Golf Racing is an easy recommendation for me, and I look forward to following up when the game officially launches.

XEL Review – PC

In 2017, Nintendo made a huge impact with Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Fans could not get enough and are salivating at the sequel. What if players could get a taste of something new while they awaited it? Look no further than XEL. With Zelda as the core blueprint and a few added-in thoughts and ideas of their own, developer Tiny Roar is giving it their all to impress. There is a lot to enjoy and only a few things that need attention to make XEL a great game.

XEL begins with a young girl who crashes into a planet which results in some memory loss. The girl is told what happened to her spacecraft by a robot named Chap and that she must locate something called XEL. She later encounters a guy named Desmond who leads her to the village of Needle Eye where she talks with the town elder after she wanders around, finds a blade, and runs across some of the less pleasant robotic natives. Players begin their long quest and begin to understand what XEL is.

If players overlook the grass, the scenery and characters are both beautifully rendered visually. But XEL really shines when it comes to audio. XEL features a ton of voice acting, and all of it is at least passable. Second, the background music is wonderfully done, and although players might quickly stop noticing it for a variety of reasons, the sound quality is actually quite good for both the music and sound effects. However, there were a few abrupt scene changes and instances where dialogue would skip forward, so those issues could probably be substantially resolved.

XEL’s gameplay has a solid foundation. You can hack at adversaries, block with a shield, and find new weapons and equipment like a shock trap and the “not-a-hook shot” in the 3D isometric landscape players have to explore. There are many chests to find and plunder, as well as numerous interesting places to explore and puzzles to solve to get access to chests or other goods in the main regions for plot advancement. According to Breath of the Wild regulations, players have a stamina wheel that is slowly replenished and depleted as players roll or are hit while blocking. At campfires, players can also “make” food by turning it into stat- or life-improving goods that players can select from the menu as needed.

The majority of the time, combat is remarkably fluid. When necessary, players attack and defend while being mindful of stamina. If players are targeting an enemy, players can roll away from them and take steps to the side and back. Additionally, players have the option of equipping two tools, either useful items or potential weapons. Combat with common foes, including some of the bigger mini-boss foes, is generally quite effective. It can be a little annoying if players have a lot of melee and ranged units, but the difficulty is more related to the number of foes than to any fundamental gameplay flaws. On the other hand, some bosses can be more difficult than anticipated. Mainly due to the limitations and concepts of how players fight them.

The puzzle component makes the XEL experience more intriguing. The protagonist’s ability to teleport between the present and the past is most noteworthy. It is autobiographical to help players grasp the setting of the game and helps to create original cross-space puzzles that are uncommon in this genre.

XEL is currently beset by a few problems. All characters generally have problems with movement. Reid, for instance, might occasionally be moving around after various exchanges. My next thought is plunging into a pit halfway across the map. This also poses a similar issue because players could approach ledges to leap off of them while walking, miss, and fall, only to respawn mid-walk directly on the edge, forcing them to jump. This was especially noticeable during the final boss battle when players had to briefly cross some platforms. Another issue that becomes common is the game has some issues loading in assets. Occasionally textures and objects would take a long time to load in, sometimes not at all. Do not let this scare you off though. Tiny Roar is consistently working on getting updates out and fixing a lot of issues each time, so it is only a matter of time before these will be relics of the past

Although each sub-weapon is distinct and has a specific purpose, players learn relatively little about them. For instance, the sonic weapon must be deployed from at least a short to a medium distance away in order to be effective. The targeting for the web shot is also a little strange and requires some adjustment, but overall, it’s fine. The camera orientation only adds to how unpleasant this is. Sometimes it’s a little too far away, and by moving around, players can make the camera appear behind walls where nothing is actually there.There is generally enough enjoyment for players to have in XEL. Although not overly sophisticated, the crafting system is nonetheless a wonderful method to improve equipment and create things for stat bonuses and health regeneration. The puzzles and stages are all fairly entertaining and have various unique themes. The voice acting and music are excellent, and most of the time, the combat is surprisingly fluid. Picking up a copy is definitely recommended if you enjoy Zelda-like games; especially in light of the numerous updates the developer is making.

Embalm and Exorcize the Dead in Supernatural Horror Game The Mortuary Assistant, Available Now

DreadXP — an independent horror publisher and production company — and developer DarkStone Digital today launched the highly-anticipated supernatural first-person horror game, The Mortuary Assistant. Available now for Windows PC, The Mortuary Assistant casts players as Rebecca Owens, a recent Mortuary Sciences graduate who starts an apprenticeship at the infamous RiverFields Mortuary. She soon learns that the dead don’t stay dead at this mortuary. Demonic forces are at play at RiverFields Mortuary…

Late one night, you are called into work to process and embalm some cadavers. Death doesn’t keep daytime hours. But there is something different about these bodies, because there is something different about you. The phone rings with the Mortician on the other end. The rumors are true, and you cannot leave.

The Mortuary Assistant features demonic banishments, creepy puzzles, realistic mortician tasks, and multiple endings. Each playthrough of the game is unique, featuring different demons, bodies, and scares. As Rebecca, you must balance your mortuary tasks while hunting for clues as to what’s behind these paranormal occurrences. Brave dark hallways and pay close attention to details if you wish to walk away with your soul intact. With a story told through multiple playthroughs, each run offers something unique.

“Following a very successful demo released last October, and lots of positive buzz from PAX East 2022, The Mortuary Assistant has now officially been released for PC gamers worldwide,” said Patrick Ewald, owner and producer at DreadXP. “We’re proud of our collaboration with developer DarkStone Digital to create one of DreadXP’s biggest games to date, and we look forward to players discovering what secrets (and nightmares) wait ahead.”

“Launching a game that you’ve worked on by yourself is like showing the world your high school journal. It’s deeply personal; you’re kind of afraid to let others see it, but you feel such a deep happiness when someone connects with it. I’m showing two years of blood, sweat, and tears to the world with The Mortuary Assistant,” said Brian Clarke, owner of DarkStone Digital and solo developer of The Mortuary Assistant. “It’s exhilarating and terrifying, but I’m truly proud of what I’ve created. I’m excited for players to see what I’ve been working so hard on.”

The scares in The Mortuary Assistant aren’t limited to the supernatural, as the game features authentic tasks practiced by real-life morticians — this include making incisions on the dead, draining corpses of residual blood, retrieving bodies from cold storage, and conducting embalmings. The first-person perspective puts you right into the macabre medical action, which only ramps up the tension as the bodies being worked on start to wander.

The Mortuary Assistant Key Features:

  • Keep your eye on the (em)bal(mings): Perform various jobs around the mortuary including embalmings, body tagging and general upkeep. But watch out for disappearing bodies. They’re the worst!
  • Creepy But Make it Authentic: The Mortuary Assistant features authentic mortician tasks that are fun for all! Who knew that retrieving bodies, making incisions, and draining blood could be so much fun?
  • Get Your Daily Exorcize: Some pesky bodies just won’t stay dead, and you’ll have to hit them with a standard exorcism. A word of warning, the learning curve to exorcisms are a real killer.
  • Collect them all!: The RiverFields Mortuary is chalk full of useful items that will make your job more pleasant. From matches and scalpels to PCs with Windows 95 and demonic artifacts, they’ll help cure your boredom and maybe even keep you alive.

The Mortuary Assistant is available now for purchase for Windows PC on Steam and Itch.io for $24.99 USD. Fans can purchase the game with a limited 10% launch-week discount and also grab the official game soundtrack featuring eleven original tracks by Cody Pawlak (Cpaws Music).

Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak Review – PC

Every passing year brings new additions to my gaming library, many that are left untouched until I further dwindle my library of played games or my friends decide to also join me in my adventures, and I have someone I can share these moments with. Monster Hunter Rise has continued my love of the series and allow me to play at my speed whenever and quite frankly, however I want, with its build diversity. Developed and published by Capcom Co, Sunbreak continues the story established in Rise with the emergence of a new threat for us to hunt, skin and craft new armor and weapons from their bodies. What could be more enjoyable than that?

Let’s get down to business; what does Sunbreak give us that wasn’t in the base game? The major addition in my opinion is the addition of Master Rank. If you have played any Monster Hunter games you know that you start at Low Rank, move to High Rank and depending on the game you unlocked Master or G rank to fight the most powerful monsters around. Master rank monsters have more health, have rarer components and also are given more powerful moves to fight you with. Sunbreak also gives us the switch skill system and probably the most technical part of the DLC. This allows you to set two sets of skills for your loadout and swap them as you need during combat. Some players will use this, some wont, but it gives everyone a way to change their playstyle on the fly and that’s always welcome to be able to add variety to any game.

It also wouldn’t be a Monster Hunter game without the introduction of new Monsters and Sunbreak does that with the addition of 17 new monsters. The 17 is made up of 7 returning monsters from previous Monster Hunter games, six new subspecies and four new original monsters made just for Sunbreak. Anytime existing monsters from previous games are added to a newer game in the series it’s a fun bit of nostalgia to see if you remember their patterns and how to take them down. The new monsters are always interesting because it’s an eventful and surprising moment when they do something cool that is specific to them, and you have to learn their movements and patterns.

Sunbreak also gives us a change of scenery with a new hub with the Elgado Outpost. Personally, I prefer it over the base village as there is less walking to get to what you need in regard to shops like the smithy, quest hub and melding. The two new explorable venues are a jungle and an old castle in a typical swampy moor. The jungle area is pretty standard across the Monster Hunter series and one I was surprised I didn’t see in the base game. As always, locations like these seem to have the most terrain advantages for you as the player with how many ways there are to help you damage. Along with all the traps and creatures that you can utilize to your advantage, none are better than the new wirebugs introduced with the Gold and Ruby variations. The Ruby wirebug allows you to deal bonus damage to monster during a wyvern riding attack, the Gold wirebug is better for farming monster materials as it increases monster drop materials. Both are welcome additions that help in different ways.

The final addition with Sunbreak and my personal favorite due to my solo player style is the addition of Follower Quests which are solo adventures that you can take NPCs with you as your party. These NPCs are from the game such as the sisters from the village and are not pushovers in any way. They will attack monsters, ride them, stun them, heal you and the best part? If they get knocked out, they do not count towards your cart count so you can feel safe knowing that unless you faint, you won’t fail. With so many missions in the game already, it’s a nice addition to get something different to run, though unfortunately it is limited to only certain missions that you can do this new mechanic on. A good and welcome addition but one that could use a bit more padding.

To start the Sunbreak DLC you must progress through the Rise story far enough and you’ll have the opportunity to travel to the new Outpost where the story kicks off. I won’t go spoiling anything, but I will say that if you have been playing Rise for some time you can still expect a challenge from the continuing story and new players may want to hang back a bit in the base game until they are ready for the challenge. The game does not hold back and when you get hit in the DLC, you’ll notice it much more than fighting a monster from the base game as your health will drop down significantly more, everything is tougher, hits harder and much more aggressive.

The Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak DLC released on June 30th, 2022 on PC and Steam.

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Meet me at NooN Review – PC

Sometimes all you need is a quick puzzle to fill in a few minutes, be it a crossword, sudoku, today’s Wordle, or Meet me at NooN. Pandaroo Interactive’s first puzzle game has all the trappings of brainy puzzle games that can make it a quick distraction or a total time suck, depending on how you want to approach it. Taking out some annoying mechanics of modern puzzle video games, Meet me at NooN makes a really strong case for itself with its simple but challenging gameplay loop, its low stakes puzzles, and its chill ambience.

Playing as two separate pieces of an hourglass, you must move both pieces to pick-up their corresponding time token at the same time in a predetermined number of moves. Each piece of the hourglass can only be moved during its represented time (day piece during the day and vice versa). All movements are tracked at the bottom of the screen making experimenting and troubleshooting that much easier when trying to find where you’ve gone wrong. You are also able to rewind back through your movements and start fresh from any moment in the timeline. One minor gripe is the inability to click the exact moment in the timeline you wish to return to. This especially stood out when getting into some of the longer timelines later in the game.

Both pieces of the hourglass have a subset of rules they follow when it is not their turn. At night, with each movement of the night piece, the day piece moves opposite of the move it made during the day. For example, if the last movement the day piece made was left, the day piece will move right after the night piece’s first move. Players can block or manipulate the day piece’s movement with the night piece, adding layers to each puzzle. These rules can be frustrating if you don’t understand them. The fact that the night piece follows a different subset of rules throws an even bigger wrench into the learning curve, but with some patience along with some trial and error, players will find fulfillment in solving one of the many puzzles.

Meet Me at NooN contains 120 levels across ten worlds. Each world comes with a new set of rules and mechanics to up the challenge. Sometimes old rules intertwine into a new world. It keeps things fresh and gives you new ways to look at levels. Some mechanics introduced later include disappearing platforms, broken up turns, and a time lapse, which doesn’t let your moves play out until you’ve decided them all.   The developer doesn’t throw you straight into the fire with the new mechanics though. The first few worlds of each level serve as a tutorial for whatever new mechanic is being introduced, slowly getting players acclimated to whatever new challenges come their way. Additionally, the game has a grid that can be turned off and on. I cannot recommend this grid enough. Just having the visual grid helps immensely with planning out moves.

Pandaroo Interactive made numerous design choices that resulted in a very player-friendly game. There is no time limit on levels. In a world full of speed runs and leaderboards, this is a welcomed decision. You are competing against no one but yourself and the puzzle, matching the experience of doing your daily sudoku or crosswords. There is no fail state, no game over screen, just trial and error until you find the puzzle’s solution.

Across the many levels, you can collect additional stars that unlock later worlds. Collectibles in these kinds of games usually read more as a distraction and less as adding more challenge to each level. I found myself getting the star on my initial attempt in most cases. If I missed it, I didn’t feel a need to go back and get it. The game is very forgiving in this aspect as well. The number of stars needed to unlock later worlds is not some astronomical number. In fact, I never found myself locked out of the next world, if I wanted to jump ahead.

The art of Meet me at NooN evokes its themes of space and time. The use of starscapes and its two colorful leads remind me a lot of the colorful worlds and characters of 2010’s Ilomilo, another chill puzzle game. The background swap from night to day is gorgeous, but I do wish there was a little more variety in the background, especially with the cleverly named puzzles hinting at what could be going on in the background. The music adds to the overall relaxing vibe, with loops that play on the time theme but don’t grow tiresome or repetitive.

If Meet me at NooN wasn’t already low stakes, the low price of $10 drops the stakes even lower. At that price, Meet me at NooN is a welcomed distraction from the world. It asks very little of players and in exchange gives so much satisfaction with each victorious solution to its challenging puzzles.

Farm Manager 2022 Review – PlayStation 4/5

Do you love simulators? Have you always wanted to manage your own farm? Look no further than Farm Manager 2022 for the PS4/PS5. Ported over from the PC, Farm Manager brings a lot to the table when it comes to farming and cultivation. With a top-down view and some well-done graphics, Farm Manager gives off a lot of good vibes right off the bat. As for gameplay, players will run into some minor issues, but most can be overcome with persistence and online guides. Plus, players have a few options to choose from when it comes to game modes.

Three different game modes are available for players to choose from: a tutorial, a campaign mode, and a free mode. The campaign mode takes up most of the game; it guides the player through building and expanding their very own farm. A few cows and a few fields are enough to get things started, but soon there are dozens of animals, fields that stretch for miles, a ton of employees (and housing for them), and factories that produce certain materials. Players may buy and sell, upgrade, repair, develop roads and power grids, and more, so there is a lot to keep in mind.

Although the campaign mode of the game is not particularly challenging, it does not leave us much room for maneuver because players are occasionally required to do foolish things that are outside of their budget in an effort to fulfill objectives. The workers’ artificial intelligence is rather subpar. Additionally, adapting duties through proximity or qualified employees requires an almost impossible amount of work. Having difficulty performing basic duties like running a slaughterhouse because the AI can’t tell how many cattle we have or when a greenhouse isn’t cultivated because the employee doesn’t know how to get it is also quite annoying.

Some issues carry a little more weight. For instance, the inability to delete buildings that are inactive because the employees lack intelligence until the duties are finished puts players at a dead end where some areas of the farm are unproductive because of the workers’ low artificial intelligence. In rare cases, even due to a problem, players won’t be able to manually save and will instead have to wait for the autosave to finish without losing their work. Beyond that, there are a huge number of manufacturing choices, which allows players to apply their standards and creativity.

The game can sometimes seem complex. Numerous factors contribute to this, starting with the fact that the lessons only cover a portion of what players need to know, leaving the remainder up to them to figure out or fail.  Some mistakes will be made, and players may be forced to restart their games because of some of the fields. Such fields include learning about electricity and caring for animals. It never explains how to control time. For example, even when players have more than enough food for their animals, it doesn’t explain what to do in that situation where you are just waiting. It does not instruct you on how to remove structures like roads, buildings, or power lines. The player’s chances of succeeding in the campaign aren’t the best because it’s only a very basic instruction structure.

The main farmhouse and a few outbuildings serve as the starting point of the campaign. Players are given a respectable amount of money to work with at first and give them plenty to do until they begin to lose money at a faster rate. New components were added at precisely the proper times to begin recovering that money. Of course, players have to pay close enough attention to the figures to avoid becoming bankrupt. Every structure has a monthly operating expense that is specific. All things including buildings, roads, animals, and equipment cost actual, hard dollars. Should something fail, to fix it, players will need the money. Additionally, the equipment will malfunction. For the sake of gameplay, realism is stretched in some respects. For example, all of the pricing is fair and never prohibitive.

The process of buying and selling is rather simple. Triggers cycle through buy/sell options while bumpers scroll across categories. Other than that, the d-pad is utilized for everything. However, in this scenario there is one issue: players never get to see what is being purchased until it is clicked on. Usually, it’s the wrong item, so players will continue browsing until they locate what they want. At which point players delete the remaining items from their cart.

The game’s controls are really challenging. I realize it’s challenging to convert a game made for a mouse to work with a joystick. Despite the fact that the outcome was successful, it may have been improved upon to be a bit more intuitive and prevent the exploitation of some buttons while others remain essentially inactive. The touchpad has a lot of nice functions to it, but there are no clear instructions on using it or what it is for. Once again, can easily be fixed if the tutorial was drawn up better.

Farm Manager 2022 is a fantastic addition to your simulation game library for long-time fans of the series. For those who are newcomers, compared to other agricultural games available on the market, this one offers a distinctive design and experience. There are numerous ways to play thanks to the variety of game types and settings. The graphics look nice in the distinctive top-down perspective, and disasters give the genre a fresh perspective. There will always be something to do in Farm Manager 2022 thanks to the inclusion of a free-play option. Minus a few issues that can be fixed over time, Farm Manager 2022 is definitely a sim worth trying.

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The Quarry Review – PlayStation 5

Gather around the campfire screensaver gamers, as I tell you the tale of eight unlikable Gen Z camp counselors who are simply too stupid to live.  The campers have all gone home, so there is nothing left to stop a crazy redneck family and some supernatural creatures of the night from terrorizing and quite likely killing off any or all of the primary playable cast.  Only time (and your attention span) will tell who lives and who dies.  The Quarry has arrived to quench that thirst for a campy, survival horror, adventure game; a thirst that started way back in 2015 with the game, Until Dawn that featured a similar cast of young adults spending a weekend in a mountain ski cabin.  What could go wrong?

Since that time, Supermassive Games has kept the genre alive with their Dark Pictures Anthology series of horror games including Man of Medan, Little Hope, House of Ashes, and the recently announced fourth game in the series, The Devil in Me.  The Quarry, while similar in style to the games that have come before it, attempts to elevate itself above the competition, and while production values and game content have never been better, let me tell you why The Quarry fails in just about every other aspect of game design.The Quarry plays out like a Netflix miniseries with ten chapters that will take a total of 6-8 hours to finish depending on how thoroughly you explore the environments and which paths you take.  There are 186 ending variations, which is ironic because I am certain you do not even interact with the game more than 100 times.  There were gaps between decision points that were long enough for my DualSense controller to fall “asleep” …just like me who dozed off on at least two occasions during long rambling conversations I did not care about from people I did not like.  Thankfully, the controller will vibrate if you take too long to make a decision.  None of the endings are considered right or wrong, good or bad. You get the ending you get based on your choices and you live (or die) with it.

My issues with The Quarry are numerous starting with eight highly unlikeable characters.  The level of passive aggression in just the first chapter is uncomfortably intense, especially for a group of teen-adults who supposedly just spent the summer together.  You have all the archetypes; Emma the influencer who only cares about Likes, Comments, and Subs, cool girl Kaitlyn whose character model is just uncanny valley enough to actress, Brenda Song who voices her to become even more distracting than Ashley Tisdale was in House of Ashes.  Ryan is my least favorite character mostly due to his inability to act.  Every word out of his mouth sounds like his voice actor is stoned to the bone and reading from a script with no rehearsals.  The only characters I did like were Abi (mostly due to her hair color and the way it would glow when backlit) and Dylan because he was super-chill and a smartass.  And we can’t forget aspiring car mechanic, Jacob, who dooms the entire cast from the very first chapter by tampering with their truck, forcing them to spend one last fateful night at summer camp…with a full moon no less.  They’re not gonna be Lycan this…

These “interactive movie” games have always straddled the fence when it comes to blending the passive movie experience with gameplay interaction, but The Quarry might just be the worst example of getting this balance correct.  There are huge spans of time where you will do nothing but watch, and even in those rare moments of interaction many QTE’s are nonsense like catching a phone or set of car keys tossed at you or quickly steering to avoid a rock.  The QTE’s are a joke, consisting of a circle that appears well ahead of any interaction, and then displays an arrow you need to match with a flick of the stick.  You literally have 2-4 seconds to complete any of these, making them almost unlosable unless you fall asleep at the controls.  Other mechanics include Interrupts, and Path Chosen events; the former being for more inconsequential decisions made in the moment while the latter is reserved for more critical path and life-altering choices.  It’s worth noting that all of these game systems are marvelously explained in these short but delightfully animated tutorial videos.

I can’t really talk about the game without spoiling it, but I can talk about the multiple ways you can play The Quarry.  Most modes allow for solo and couch co-op play along with a passive Movie Mode where you can choose the ending and simply watch the game play out just like a movie to see who lives and dies, or you can hop into the Director’s Chair to steer the narrative in real-time.  Best of all, there is Gorefest option that really amps up the blood and gore if you like that kind of thing.  You can revisit previous chapters to search for hidden Tarot cards or perhaps change your fate.  It’s worth noting that you do get three lives (basically mulligans) to possibly reverse any unwanted or unintentional deaths.

The multiplayer modes are pretty standard.  In co-op mode you divvy up the characters between the players then pass the controller back and forth as needed.  The Wolfpack mode allows you to either join or host a game that has been configured by the host to affect the choices you make while playing.  Fans of the lore will certainly want to check out the Bizarre Yet Bonafide podcast channel with six thrilling episodes including The Hag of Hackett’s Quarry…just had to say it one more time.  My only issue with these is that you are stuck listening to these episodes in the menu with no time indicator or a way to pause, FF, or RW.  I listened to the first few minutes of three of these but never finished any, so I can’t say how long they are.  The production value and content is great and fleshes out the extended lore of the events of the game; I just wish there was a more accessible way to listen to them.

The crazy old fortune teller lady was a nice alternative to the shrink and the librarian from the other games, and I did enjoy the whole Tarot card collectible system.  Some of those cards are very well hidden, sometimes only appearing in certain camera views.  I only got 12/22 on my first pass, and most of those I stumbled upon by accident.  The production values were fantastic, with great 4K visuals and consistently smooth framerates.  Voice acting was also good despite the B-movie script loaded with cringe dialogue.  The devs have really gotten their facial rigs down to create some super-immersive and emotive close-ups, but OMG…THOSE TEETH!  I’m having flashbacks to Matt Dillon in Something About Mary.

I really wanted to like The Quarry, but the glaring lack of interaction almost had me annoyed when I was eventually asked to hit a button or push a stick to advance the story.  You become so complacent just watching things unfold then BOOM…make a decision or die.  I only used one of my “lives” because I quickly learned to hate almost everyone except the few favs I mentioned earlier.  There were definitely some thrilling and even scary moments and quite a few twists and turns, although I was able to figure things out about halfway through the game.

If you love scary movies then The Quarry definitely fits that bill, but as a game it is severely lacking.  Like most things, it does get better when shared in the co-op mode, but beyond going back to find all the Tarot cards and possibly experiencing a few of the variant endings there is little here to encourage replaying more than 2-3 times…certainly not 186.  I’d wait for a good sale before I’d buy a ticket to this summer B-movie.

You can check out the first two hours of the game in our first-look video coverage with commentary.