Category Archives: Game Reviews

Serious Sam 4 Review – PlayStation 5

There are numerous signs of the apocalypse; dogs and cats living together, an alien invasion that threatens the entire planet, and me reviewing a Serious Sam game.  In all seriousness, you know it’s a bad year for AAA combat when I’m deleting lemons like Vanguard and Battlefield 2042 to make room for Serious Sam 4.  As someone who favors the slower more tactical gameplay of games like Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon, Serious Sam is quite possibly the last game you’d expect me to play, let alone enjoy, but there is something refreshingly tactical about managing a huge assortment of weapons while combining ammo conservation, gadget use, and lots of backpedaling amidst some of the most epic carnage you can experience outside a Michael Bay movie.

It’s been twenty years since I dabbled around with the original Serious Sam game.  At the time it was more of a visual tech demo than anything else.  I remember exploring Egyptian architecture while blasting endless swarms of crazy monsters into bloody giblets.  Now, two decades later, I’m pretty much doing the same thing only with much better graphics and in a new location.  Makes me wonder if I missed anything in parts two and three?  So apparently these incompetent aliens are still trying to take over the planet after all this time, but one man in a skintight T-shirt with the ability to carry a dozen weapons and hundreds of pounds of ammo around in his jeans’ pockets keeps foiling their plans.  As alien overlord, Mental prepares to unleash his final assault Sam must lead his resistance fighters into battle to save the planet.

Serious Sam 4 is structured around thematic chapters set in unique locations with multi-part objectives and usually two or three optional side missions, but come on…are they really optional?  Are you really going to skip major portions of content highlighted with glowing arrows and blue signage just to stay on mission; especially when those side missions are usually home to some of the better weapons and upgrades in the game?  For those with a competitive streak, these chapters are also scored based on performance and completion time, but unless you are intentionally speed-running the game I wouldn’t stress over the clock.  Playing on the normal difficulty I never once beat the par time for any level…came close a couple times but never beat it.  For me, surviving the chapter and unlocking the next was reward enough.

Serious Sam 4 has a fun little story that opens with Sam driving through Rome in his military convoy of Humvees with chopper escort when aliens launch their next attack and shit gets real.  Sam and the only survivor of the convoy, Kenny, emerge from the wreckage and must fight their way back to the resistance while navigating the monster-filled streets of Rome.  Kenny is the first hint of the new cooperative element of the campaign that allows for up to four players to save the world.  There are areas in the solo game where AI teammates will fight alongside you.  Unfortunately, none of my usual online gaming buds were even remotely interested in playing this with me…something about some small-time indie shooter called Halo Infinite, so I was left to save Earth alone…not the first time.

You quickly learn that Serious Sam 4 is all about reflexes and weapons management.  You start off with a lowly pistol but a few hours into the game you will have a double-ring of weapon slots with everything from single and double barrel shotguns to assault rifles, grenade and rocket launchers, C4 sticky bombs, and a powerful sniper rifle.  You also get some nifty gear like life injectors, a serum that speeds you up while reducing your damage and inflicting quad-damage to your enemies, and even a gadget that summons a black hole to suck up an entire battlefield of enemies…use cautiously.   The game is structured with all of these battle “arenas”; some quite obvious like the actual Colosseum, while other combat ensues in the city streets or amongst ancient ruins.  Enemies just portal in from all sides, even behind you, so there is no time for planning unless you die and reload and know what’s coming.

Knowing what weapons works best on what monsters is critical.  Charging bulls require multiple double-barrel shotgun shots while one or two rockets will drop them instantly.  Those skeleton Kleer go down with a single double-barrel blast while the screaming Kamikaze guys go down with simple AR fire.  Some encounters will put you up against wave after wave of hundreds of enemies of changing types forcing you to constantly switch weapons for optimal effectiveness.  Mid-size and large bosses will stampede into battle that often require the big guns while simultaneous fighting off the supporting grunts as you circle-strafe or backpedal your way to safety while timing your reloads and performing the occasional side-dodge.

Originally released last year on the PC, I played Serious Sam 4 on the PS5 for this review and found the experience enjoyable enough for what it is, a purely reflexive and instinctual arcade shooter where the only tactical decision required is, “do you bandage your trigger finger before or after you play”…correct answer is both.  The DualSense works pretty well in the broad sense of combat, but there is a certain level of imprecision built into the analog sticks that makes sniping at distance a major pain in the ass.  It doesn’t help that enemies have instant awareness to your location once you shoot that first target or cross that invisible trigger line.  Trying to peek out, scope, and fire before taking a hit yourself in problematic, especially if multiple snipers are lurking about the rooftops.

Technically, Serious Sam 4 looks fine and sounds amazing.  Every monster has their signature sound from the bone rattling Kleer to the screaming Kamikaze – just wait until one of those gets stuck in the environment and is screaming for an entire ten minute battle until you can hunt him down.  The voice acting is campy and fun with Sam’s gravelly voice stealing the show – that man must smoke six packs a day.  While not entirely next-gen I can see why it takes the power of the PS5 to get the game running as good as it does.  There are LOD issues with architecture and shadow pop-in as well as texture loading issues mostly visible after a camera cut or cinematic.  I can imagine a super-powerful PC could muscle through most of these, but for a console shooter of this magnitude it’s still mighty impressive.

If you are looking for an epic arcade shooter loaded with insane amounts of crazy weapons and monsters then look no further than Serious Sam 4.  In the absence of Duke Nukem Sam is the only wisecracking hero left for this generation, and while he is a man of few words he certainly delivers on explosive action.  With a great solo mode, co-op campaign, and a scoring system to encourage future replays, you can expect countless hours of carnage as you save the world…again.

If you want to see Sam in action you can check out the first three hours of gameplay in our First Look video.

White Shadows Review – PC & PS5

White Shadows is the debut titles from Monokel that has just arrived on PC and PS5 and has totally secured a spot on my top ten indie games of 2021.  Despite it’s less-than-three-hour playtime, every moment you spend in this eerily enchanting game from opening trigger warning to closing credits will enchant and delight players of all ages.  Monokel has crafted a perfectly paced action-platforming experience with just the right amounts of action, light puzzle-solving and cryptic narrative.  Every minute you spend in this world has purpose, which makes it even easier to forgive the short runtime despite wanting more.

At first White Shadows appears to take place in a dusty old attic, as our heroine emerges from a broken telephone, but all too soon you realize you are in this sprawling steampunk industrial world populated by all sorts of creatures that slave away in their daily grinds under the rule of the Ministry of Light.  You see, in this world darkness is the enemy, although nothing bad seems to happen when you are in the dark, but regardless it seems society has been structured about keeping the world lit, even to the point where its citizens can spend $50 for a “light bath”.

There are numerous animals in the world with wolves at the top of the food chain while pigs gather in long lines awaiting their next light shower and others serve as elevator attendants, walking their treadmills so others can go up and down.  Birds are apparently the enemy, which makes it all that much more difficult since you are playing Ravengirl, who at first I though was a human wearing a beak mask, but as it turns out is an actual raven head on a human torso – not the weirdest thing in this game to be sure.  There is this whole factory farming vibe going on behind the scenes with these giant birds laying eggs that are processed along lengthy conveyor belts until these adorable chicks emerge.  Sadly, these chicks turn out to be energy sources that are converted into batteries that are then lifted to the heavens via hot air balloons to power the array of lights that shine down on the city.

Considering the game deals heavily with light and shadow I thought the choice to render White Shadows in black and white was genius.  I was amazed with the level of detail and creativity on display here with complex multi-layered environments, original creature design, charming animations, and great use of light and dark including real-time shadows that actually become part of the gameplay.  There is a haze that covers the world, almost looking like fog or dust that diffuses the light, and while this takes away a bit of the crisp contrast you might think you want, this atmospheric effect actually helps spread what little light there is around to the darker areas.  Much of this world is lit purely through scenery like neon lights and signs and the occasional ring lights around tunnels.  On occasion when the camera tilts upward you can glimpse the grid of lights in the sky.  The camera work is also exceptional, zooming in for fun close-ups where you can appreciate the finer details, then pulling way out to reveal the sheer scope and scale of these massive environments.  I did enjoy the switch to 4:3 aspect ratio for a TV gameshow and numerous commercial breaks that pop-up during your adventure.

I would be remiss if I didn’t call out the amazing audio in White Shadows.  While the game is mostly a quiet explorative adventure there are these action sequences where all these awesome classical tunes start to play.  You haven’t done a train-hopping puzzle until you’ve done it with Flight of the Bumblebee playing in the background.  Midway through the game there is this reality TV gameshow with its own original song that had me laughing for quite some time; a worthy reward for defeating what is basically the only boss in the game.   There are some really great environmental sounds as well as powerful, almost scary effects from trains and flying machines.

I played White Shadows on both the PC and the PS5 and found virtually no difference in gameplay, presentation, controls, or quality.  The PC version may have been slightly sharper; hard to say with all that diffused lighting, and the PS5 didn’t make use of the DualSense controller in any way and loading times weren’t any faster on that fancy SSD.  It is worth noting this is a native PS5 title and not a PS4 game being played in back-compat mode.   I saw no support for HDR on either format; shocking for a game that relies almost entirely on contrast.   You can’t go wrong with either version.

White Shadows snuck in just under the 2021 wire to secure a nomination for one of the best indie games I’ve played this year.  Sure, you can knock it out in a single sitting just like I did in my PC gameplay video.  You can also see the first two chapters of the PS5 version if you prefer or want to compare.  In both those videos I make numerous comparisons to games like Limbo, Inside, Little Nightmares, and even Oddworld.  Monokel has captured all the best elements of those legendary titles and combined them into something that is fresh, charming, and fun to play.  You’ll definitely want to check this out.

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After the Fall Review – PlayStation VR

In the few short weeks of its release, gamers far and wide are referring to Dutch Developer Vertigo Games’ newest release After The Fall as “Left 4 Dead VR” and with good reason – because for all intents and purposes, this 4-player online cross-platform zombie-shooter is about as close to Left 4 Dead as any game in the 13 years since its release.  And while this would normally elicit eyerolls from hardened L4D fans, in the case of After The Fall it is widely accepted as all-good.

So maybe it hasn’t been all good – the original PS4 release was marred with some serious issues that caused the developers to issue a statement asking gamers to hold off with installing until they could work some of the major buds out.  But once they got things sorted and gave the all-clear, gamers were introduced to one of the most exhilarating VR first-person cooperative shooter experiences yet on the PSVR.

PSVR allows gamers to use a bevy of different controller setups; DualShock4, two PlayStation Move controllers, or the underappreciated PS VR Aim controller.  Given that, I decided to go with the VR Aim controller which added some complexity to the play, but made things real as hell.

Gamers are introduced to the controls with a quick tutorial in a local arcade that serves as the hub of all the gameplay, and the area in which weapons can be permanently upgraded using Harvest Points that are acquired during the game’s missions, or what they call Harvest Runs.

The arcade is chock-full of other gamer avatars running around chatting, gesturing, and otherwise looking like an odd bunch of goofballs looking for action.  Action can be found by approaching one of the many open videogame cabinets (circa 1988) and grabbing ahold of the onscreen gun peripheral.  This kicks in the cabinet’s screen from which gamers can pick their desired Harvest Run mission, and decide whether to play the game online with three human platers, or remain offline with three bots.  Obviously, going with humans is generally the best way to keep your character alive to the end of the level, but the bots are surprisingly helpful in their own right.

After a lengthy load time, gamers are teleported to the starting point where they can purchase the requisite add-ons to add to their tool-belt; pipe bombs, health injectors, ammo, etc..  I’ll admit that this was something I had a really hard time understanding where/how to pack these items once purchased, so I generally just went into the level believing the other gamers would cover my butt when needed.  They generally did.

I’m playing this on a launch-day PS4 with a first generation PSVR setup, so the visual quality on my rig is about as basic as it gets and that being said, even for a VR game was still grainy and bland compared to some of the other VR games I’ve reviewed recently.  But for the sheer intensity and immersion, After The Fall absolutely takes the cake over most of those other games.  The pace at which the zombie waves pour out of the walls will keep gamers absolutely on their toes (or edges of seats if sitting), and when the big bad boss comes it’s an all-out scramble to keep clear and keep plugging away the various vulnerable spots.

The in-game audio is exceptional in the PSVR headset, with a very food sense of spatial surround to help gamers hear enemies approaching from all directions.  The guns pack an audible punch and the explosions are near-epic with deep bass booms.

Each Harvest Run takes about 30 minutes to complete, and if all players are wiped out it means starting from the beginning.  Keeping alive isn’t too much of a chore – given the various health and ammo restocks scattered throughout the levels, but if you get on the wrong side of a boss fight, you’ll quickly end up in the red, literally.

The game’s comfort settings are endless, giving gamers the ability to tweak settings for movement, turning, posture, and accessibility.  Gamers who like snap-turning can adjust the snap angles, and smooth-turners can tweak the speeds to minimize motion sickness.  I was able to find the perfect blend of smooth movement and turning that didn’t leave me retching, so I was a happy gamer.

The cross-platform play is seamless, with gamers sporting the icon of their chosen gameplay device over their names.  I didn’t notice any appreciable lag in gameplay with any of my co-op sessions, and everyone seemed respectful and appreciative of having other gamers to share in on the fun.

After The Fall is an exceptional VR experience that pays homage to an absolute gaming classic.  Hopefully Vertigo will continue to support After The Fall with additional levels and upgrades to give the game a long enjoyable life.

Life is Strange: True Colors Review – Switch

The Life is Strange franchise has become well established. Every game follows a young adult going through some kind of crisis and has a new superpower to help them through their crisis. Since the original, Life is Strange has turned from a classic episodic adventure story and built on that with a bold and overtly political narrative. True Colors is the latest entry in the growing anthology, and it once again features a troubled kid with special abilities who’s struggling to keep it together.

True Colors centers on Alex Chen, a 21-year-old who has spent nearly a decade bouncing around the foster care system. She bounced from family to facility and back again for over a decade before her brother, Gabe tracked her down and invited her to his new home of Haven Springs, an idyllic little village in Colorado. While it’s seemingly a peaceful-enough place to start a life, everything quickly does a 180 and a shocking death leads Alex down a rabbit hole of figuring out how it actually happened.

At its core, True Colors is a classic small town murder mystery, the kind where everyone seems like they could be a suspect once you dig in a little. Eventually, you’ll learn that there’s a sinister history to the place, including a powerful corporation with a strong hold on the town. What makes it feel distinctly like Life is Strange comes down to a combination of gameplay and tone. If you’ve never played any of these games before, they’re essentially interactive dramas, where you spend as much time watching events unfold as participating. Your interactions mostly come in two forms; making decisions and investigating. Often the game will present you with a binary choice that influences how the story plays out, or how other characters respond to Alex. There are even two possible romantic combinations to go for.

The story is not all about solving a suspicious death. True Colors allows you to enjoy your time around the town as you uncover the truth. When you are not making split second decisions, you are down by the dock contemplating life. You are able to linger as needed between the other characters and moments so that you can paint a better picture on what is happening.

Alex isn’t without help in her quest for justice either. Alex’s empathic power allows her to see someone’s aura. She can sense how someone is feeling by looking at the emotions that surround them and then use that to understand them better. This can lead to several different outcomes. Sometimes, she’s able to change someone’s emotional state by saying or doing the right thing; other times she can use that information to help people in more practical ways.

True Colors also does an incredible job when it comes to pacing and tone. There are times when the action is so fast, and you have to make a hard decision in a split second, that my heart was truly racing. In other moments you can just lounge around on a dock thinking about life. The game lets you linger when needed, both with moments and characters, so you can fully understand them. Things also get incredibly dark, particularly in the later chapters, when Alex is forced to confront the innermost conflicts of both her friends and herself.

True Colors has a few hiccups on the Switch. Compared to other consoles, True Colors is a stunning game with a beautiful world to explore in. The world becomes blurred and sometimes frames go missing as you move through it. When docked the issues became less noticeable. However, if you play it undocked, the issues become more consistent. This did not stop me from falling in love with this game and the narrative surrounding it.

One great addition this game brings is that it was not released in segments. The series has been episodic since the beginning: each new entry is divided into chapters, which are then released periodically every month or so. It’s a great idea, but the realities of game development often meant there were huge gaps between episodes, making it hard for the story to maintain momentum. In True Colors, this is no longer the case; all five chapters are being released at once, and the story benefits from this kind of close connection where you can see the ramifications of your choices without struggling to remember what happened last time.

True Colors is a fantastic addition to the series; a gripping narrative that will keep the blood flowing mixed with  new powers that make this one stick out. The characters are well developed, fleshed out, and bring a great sense of involvement to the plot. The performance of the Switch was the weakest part of True Colors, but even so, I would still highly recommend Life is Strange: True Colors.

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Break Arts II Review – PlayStation 4

Break Arts II is a Mecha builder’s dream with Wipeout-esque racing thrown in for some high-speed thrills to heighten the game experience. Developed by MercuryStudio and published by PLAYISM Break Arts II lets you take on the role of a character living in a world that has a VR-Style world racing league that uses mobile suits to battle and race to become champion of the Break Arts Grand Prix. Originating as a mobile game it was initially released in 2018 where it sits at a mostly positive review score.

You as the main character are only showcased as your mobile suit itself, there isn’t a pilot that you create or anything to identify with, which is strange, but I suppose in a virtual world people would see you as your avatar and not your real persona. Story wise there is the Grand Prix that you are trying to become champion of where you progress and unlock more races and parts as you gain money. Money is your experience in your build rank, and it is easy to earn as you can repeat races and keep winning to increase your standings further. There is a multiplayer option as well that you can play, but as writing this I was never able to find anyone to play with, so I can’t confirm what rewards you can gain.

The customization of your mobile suit is very in depth where the parts you choose aren’t just bolted on in a predetermined slot, but you control where they attach and even the angle at which it is applied. The parts you choose determine your armor, speed, energy cornering ability and boost capacity; you name it you can probably adjust it by customizing your parts. By far my favorite is the weapon system because again, you don’t just choose a weapon; you build every part of it yourself. Your weapon can start off as a rifle and by continuing to add barrels and some scopes it’s suddenly a sniper rifle. Have a single missile launcher but want a missile pod, just attach more launchers to it; boom missile pod. You have quite a lot of control over it, but you don’t want to go overboard or suddenly you will find yourself having no speed due to the weight of your weapons. It is really about finding a good balance until you can further increase your capacity.

Races are straight forward in Break Arts II due to the fact all you control is your boost, firing weapons and cornering. The game plays much like a rail racer where you don’t press a “go” button; you just go all the time.  This seems to be stemmed from the fact that Break Arts originated as a mobile game and that explains why you don’t even have to aim almost any weapon, as they all use a sort of lock-on system and all you do is fire them to take out the other “racers”.  I’ll explain why I say “racers” a bit later. The main skill you are going to want to master is going to be boost control because that is going to determine if you are going to slam into a speed reduction wall or make that last clutch turn and keep up your momentum. I won almost every one of my races while playing by utilizing boost and non-stop shooting the other racers to knock them out temporarily while you overtake them, but unfortunately the same can happen to you, so be prepared to load up on armor to protect yourself.

One of my biggest complaints is that during the races your HUD aka heads up display, is extremely cluttered with information such as your speed, armor, A.I assist active and weapon cooldowns boost meter and the “override” function that allows you to bypass all safety meters for extreme speed for a short burst of time. I felt like it did not have to all be centered in the middle of the screen and detract even further from the races and visuals I was hoping to see.

After all that in-depth customization I bet you are hyped to see what other people have come up with either online or during the Grand Prix, but you are going to be quite disappointed, probably as much as I was when the races started to find out that all I saw in-game are colored diamonds zooming past and shooting you. To be fair I only saw this in the solo races because I was never able to find any other players online to race with.  If I did I bet I would have gotten destroyed. The only time you will see what other suits look like is at the end of the race when they show the top three finishers from the race, and they do look great, but it defeats the purpose in my eyes for having such an in-depth customization system just for you to never see them in-game. I was able to find others who were showcasing their builds on online forums, and I was impressed by how much people put into games like these where you can take control of a customization system with so much creative control but only made me more disappointed that you don’t even see them in-game.

Ultimately Break Arts II would make any Mecha builder lover happy with its in-depth build system and the freedom it gives you in how your Mecha looks.  It just doesn’t have anything else going for it that would pull anyone else in with its on-rail race system and lack of community. Break Arts II released December 2nd 2021 for an MSRP of $19.99.   Hopefully more people will check this out so the online community will start to grow and online racing becomes possible.

Evil Genius 2: World Domination Review – PlayStation 5

Want to be an evil mastermind with the single goal of world domination? I didn’t think I would be until I started playing Evil Genius 2: World Domination. Evil Genius 2 is part of the apparently popular Evil Genius series developed and published by Rebellion Developments and is a single player real time strategy and simulation game that I should have started playing long before this. The Evil genius series allows you to take control of a criminal mastermind and ready your lair to take over the world.

I’ve never played an Evil Genius game myself, but I love base build games where you make your own world, city, factory, and office-space; you name it I enjoy it. I love the simplicity of the idea coupled with the complexity that you can get to with your own ingenuity of how to use the space you have. Evil Genius 2: World Domination allows you to choose one of four evil geniuses, each with their own specialization.

You start the game and select your master mind; I personally went with Zalika which is the mastermind who specializes in science since I’m always a fan of increasing the pace at which I research upgrades for early head starts. Zalika allowed me to increase my scientists research rate by using one of her special abilities to cast an aura around her, I do this best by positioning her in a way that my aura would affect the most minions possible. After you select your mastermind, you select one of three islands to build your secret base on and start your nefarious deeds. Each mastermind has their own perk and there is no wrong or best choice; it all depends what you want to focus on.

As I have never played an Evil Genius game I started the campaign mode with the help section enabled so that I could learn as I play. Evil Genius 2: World Domination slowly introduces you to everything from room creation so that you can allocate your limited space for each specific room such as barracks so that you can increase your minion capacity, cafeteria to keep them fed and break rooms so they don’t go insane from being overworked, which I try to not do because I am a nice evil mastermind. The game walks you through not just building your base but also hiring more diverse minions such as mercenaries, valets, scientists, and engineers. I really like the fact that you can just hire minions from some apparent minion temp agency that exists in the world and then train them to specialized roles. The way that you unlock said roles is also something you must accomplish in game via a mission to kidnap someone of that role and then interrogate them, usually with death being the result, until they teach you how to be as good as them. The quirkiest ones are the entertainers and valets, you couldn’t just read a book or two for that one?

While the game hand holds you for the major plot points if you play with the help enabled it also allows you to make mistakes without stopping you, which I found out early on when I didn’t take the space I had and the power I was generating into account and started to invest in a ton of rooms such an armory, surveillance and intel room only to realize I had just thrown my base into darkness due to not having enough power, so there I go building generators to make up for what I had just done. You can easily go overboard if you don’t think ahead in your planning. Only about five hours into the game did I realize I could build stairs to reach the lower parts of the island I had chosen and further expand my lair, albeit after I researched the proper technology to help me dig through bedrock and such.

Research is another part of Evil Genius 2: World Domination because without selecting a research item your technology and weapons will never improve and the spies entering your casino front will start to infiltrate your secret base and attack. Research not only allows you to gain weapons and new rooms but also improves stats on your minions that you have recruited and trained to make them that much stronger, so it is a key part of World Domination and shouldn’t be left behind.

I mentioned each minion can be trained and you will have to pay them all which is where missions start to come in. Missions are located on the world map after you send off some scouts to create an outpost.  Those minions are gone for good, as they retire after every mission completed to enjoy their riches or infamy they have garnered via completing them. Missions also have requirements of intel needed and specific minion roles that can complete them.  Don’t have enough specialized minions; you aren’t even getting to attempt those missions then, which is why it’s important to keep training them. Evil Genius 2: World Domination 2 does a great job of doing this for you by allowing you to set parameters like always having X amount of Y minions, as the game progresses though you will find having to increase that as costs go up which is why building your base properly is so important, every inch matters especially your vault space, which is where your gold is stored on your island.

As I mentioned, when you progress you will start getting spies checking out your base, so you must start defending yourself and your island. Depending on the island chosen you may have limited capacity in the beginning, so training your minions and researching is important. Each mastermind has an endgame they are aiming for with the ultimate goal of world domination to win the game. From my experience Zalika has a “V.O.I.D” device which will brainwash the whole world to serve her; the others are much more straightforward like a doom device for world domination. As the spies get smarter you will have to start using different tactics to either keep them from ever infiltrating your base or “stop them from leaving” if you get my drift. You kill them, that’s my drift. You can arm your guards with weapons or create traps such as laser grids, giant punching fists that come out of the walls or flame throwers if you like them crispy. Keeping your “HEAT” down is going to keep your island safe but inevitably you will get attacked so be ready.

For being a strategy game on a console device I have top say they did a top-notch job of making sure nothing felt clunky and the game played smoothly. I didn’t run into any issues when utilizing the build menu or controlling my evil genius and moving them around the map or even minion management. The cameras were very versatile and allowed me to see exactly what I wanted without any weird boundary or angles that I couldn’t access.

Evil Genius 2: World Domination released on November 30th, 2021, for PlayStation 5 and is also on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and PS4 for $39.99, which is personally a deal in my books after being introduced to it. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a strategy game as much as I have Evil Genius 2: World Domination on console and look forward to any DLC or updates they put out.

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Mr. Prepper Review – Xbox Series X|S

Set in an alternative history timeline your character has freshly been brought back home by the federal agents that represent the all-powerful government. You’re left alone in your house with nothing but your pension for survival and a crafty nature to construct a bunker that will ultimately lead you to outwit the powers that be. Mr. Prepper is exactly what it sounds like. You are a resourceful, bunker-building, crafty man who refuses to let the authority tell him what to do. With the looming threat of nuclear fallout will you be ready when the time comes?

Developed by Rejected Games and published by PlayWay S.A./Rejected Games this studio and publisher seem to be out of Poland. While there is little to find on Rejected Games outside of Steam, eagle-eyed readers will recognize PlayWay as the polish co-publisher of House Flipper, the once darling of all home improvement gamers. I note the region of the publisher as the game no doubt is localized for a western audience and has heavy commentary on our political climate. Your political leanings aside, it’s a satirical tone and farcical world that you’re ferreting away your resources in. After a failed attempt at escaping your confines, you’ve been told to stay put, but that won’t stop a free-thinker like you.

You will start with a basic house that is relatively empty. It’s just enough to get you going. You can sell, break down, and purchase more resources through your mailbox where a kindly mailman will offer some flavor text about the world as he sees it. Each day runs in a cycle and each task takes a certain amount of time. You’ll get tired, hungry, and have a general preparedness score to mark your days by and possible survival. You’ll break down materials, search a forest for food and dig holes in your floor to build your ultimate bunker while still feeding yourself and sleeping. Like most progression systems in these games, you’ll upgrade a workbench to learn more complicated and valuable recipes. It’s a fun game loop in a new setting and I generally like these kinds of games.

My main criticism of this game isn’t the game design or the difficulty curve; it’s how challenging it is to play with a controller. I reviewed my copy on the Xbox Series X|S consoles and while it ran well, I was always frustrated to not have a mouse in my hands. The interface is multifaceted with many different items to highlight and even more to grab in the world. The issue went beyond learning a new control scheme. I genuinely could not build the muscle memory to disassemble items quickly. While I was playing on the easiest difficulty and never really felt in danger of losing, I still felt the time crunch to make each second count and it was frustrating when I couldn’t communicate what I wanted to accomplish to the game.

There is a tutorial at the beginning of the campaign mode, but it isn’t all that helpful. Sometimes different windows would be open and the text telling me what to select would obscure my objective. I learned the most when I hopped into creative mode and took all the time I wanted to knock against the system. To be fair this was a prerelease build and these things could be ironed out. However, I do not expect the 1.0 patch to launch with an all-new user interface and control scheme.

The art design is simple and lighthearted. I especially like the setting with the authoritarian democracy gone awry and it’s up to the common man to fend for himself. It’s a fun premise and its heavy-handedness makes it funny, not annoying. Likewise, the sound effects and artwork were adequate and I enjoyed poking around the world visually to see what little details there were in the posters and artwork. I especially liked the street sign by my door used for fast travel that just read, “Here, There, Anywhere.” I get the feeling the developer enjoyed making it and doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

Mr. Prepper is a fun but frustrating game that has so many systems and plates to keep spinning that it can be daunting to break the surface. Luckily as challenging as it can be at times the rewards and feeling of having outsmarted the government outweigh its shortcomings. I enjoyed my time with it and will put it in my backlog. However, it is a real shame that controls were not streamlined more. Too much of my playtime was spent trying to figure out how to tell the game what I wanted to do.

Overall, if you love resource management, crafting, and stickin’-it-to-the-man then this is time well spent. Right now the asking price is $15.49 on the Xbox Store (I believe a holiday sale may bring it down to $13.16). While I think it’s a fair price for what you get, unless you love this genre I’d wait to see if the controls get patched. However, if the setting and genre are exactly what you’re looking for, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy hours trying to avoid the nuclear apocalypse.

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The Gunk Review – PC

Any time a developer ventures into a new genre there is some optimism mixed with a collective holding of breath. Breaking away from their 2D platforming roots, developer Image & Form has set out to make their mark in 3D platforming. The Gunk is a fun action-adventure platformer with some interesting story beats and characters, but overall it feels more like a proof of concept and less like a full game.

The Gunk follows the space-junking couple, Rani and Becks, as they descend upon an untouched planet in search of resources. They discover the world is overrun with a sludge-like substance called gunk and set out to discover the source of the pollution. Rani explores the planet solo, but Becks is always in her ear, chiming in about whatever is going on. The couple really is the heart of the story. Rani and Becks feel like a real couple, talking about real things, like the stress of working with a loved one, the pressures of sharing debt in a relationship, or how one partner’s defining trait could be the other partner’s burden. As I explored the planet, I found myself more drawn to the relationship than anything else going on.

Rani is equipped with a Power Glove that she uses to suck up the gunk, fight enemies, and collect resources. With an area clear of gunk and enemies, plant life returns to normal and opens a new path for you to explore. Toss in a few environmental puzzles and you have the basic gameplay loop of The Gunk. It’s fun sucking up the gunk and looking for ways to deal with enemies, but I found myself hoping for new challenges that never came as I got into the later parts of the game. Accessing some areas would require an upgrade to your Power Glove, but between an easy to use fast travel system and a large abundance of resources, you’ll never be wandering around wondering what you need to do next.

There are ten total Power Glove upgrades across the game. They unlock as you progress through the story, but beside a gadget that lures enemies to it, and a pulse beam that opens doors and stuns enemies, there didn’t seem to be much difference to the gameplay after most upgrades. One upgrade increases the field of your glove’s vacuum, another gives you a boost of speed after sucking up gunk, but I honestly could not tell if there were any tangible benefits in the case of either upgrade. I was hoping for a few more new gadgets as the game started to throw new blends of enemies at me later in the campaign but was left wanting more.

Another place lacking in variety are the enemies, of which there are only three. Things ramp up in later encounters with blends of enemies, but with so few to choose from there are only so many ways the game can throw them at you. Early chapters introduce some native wildlife and drones, which I thought would be corrupted by the gunk at some point, but nothing of the like ever unfolds.

That is the biggest issue with The Gunk, this world doesn’t feel alive. The few encounters with inhabitants are used to drive the plot forward and nothing more. You stumble upon ruins and cities, but they don’t really feel lived in. This is most apparent when compared to the dialogue exchanges between Rani and Becks. Each word has weight, and you feel like you’ve just stumbled upon a couple in the middle of an argument. The issues Becks brings up aren’t the first time these two are discussing these issues. The world offers nothing in comparison.

Don’t get me wrong, the world is beautiful and the mix of wilderness and ancient ruins will have you stopping to take in the view from time to time. There’s enough variety to keep your interest between the biomes with the mix of forests, caves, deserts, and industrial areas that we’ve come to expect in games like this. But all of that is surface level. Aside from monuments of worship, I never got a feel for the world or the individuals who call it home.

While it’s not readily available online at the moment, I want to shine a light on the amazing soundtrack. Numerous tracks give players a sense of wonder and exploration. A standout out from the OST lays out some smooth saxophone notes (eliciting the Halo 3: ODST hub music) as you search for a way through the gunk and across a river.

The big bad of the story is a visionary that the world’s population worships. Think like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. It’s a cautionary tale about hero worship and the chaos that follows after handing the keys of the world to the rich. As you’ve probably already guessed, The Gunk comments on a population’s strain on resources and the global effects of pollution. The issue with this is that the core gameplay undermines those story beats, with players sucking up every resource they come across to upgrade their Power Glove. Rani and Becks are there to mine the planet for resources, but even after they discover the source of the gunk and vow to stop it, the player can still collect resources.

At $25 I would recommend those with Game Pass check it out there. I was able to beat the campaign in less than four hours, all while exploring alternate routes and looking for collectibles. In replayability there isn’t much new to see for a second go around.

The Gunk is the start of Image & Form diversifying and getting their feet wet in a new genre, but the lack of variety across the board and the short completion time make it the truest definition of a “Game Pass game”. With its completion I am excited to see where the dev team goes next. I just hope they dive in head first, instead of just dipping a toe.

Drox Operative 2 Review – PC

The Diablo franchise has a huge following and that following is always ready for more content; however, there isn’t enough content to keep them satisfied, which is why I recommend picking up a copy of Drox Operative 2. Drox Operative 2 is the sequel to an indie hit that copied a lot of Diablo and put it in space. Drox does a great job being its own game filled with great features and a great built in randomizer. I have never played the predecessor, but I instantly fell in love with this title. There is so much you can do and so little time to complete it all.

As far as narrative goes, there is not much of one. You belong to a guild called the Drox Operatives that used to rule the galaxy. Now considered an elite mercenary group, you must do whatever you can to align yourself with the most powerful race and gain as much credit as possible among other goals. At the start of a new game, you select from ten different races. Each race has different benefits that affect how you play. Once you have picked a race and ship name, you then will customize your experience. You can choose how big and the shape of the space sector, the difficulty of the enemies, you can speed up or slow down the pace of experience gain, you can choose how pre-settled the planets in the sector are, and how many races you will encounter.

The gameplay is simple; fly your ship around, exploring, and discovering different species, planets, and weapons while trying to complete all of your objectives. You gain experience by completing quests, killing enemies, discovering the vast universe, etc. As you gain experience, you will level up your ship. Upgrading the ship will allow you to spend points upgrading your stats, which can have great effects like bigger ships or inventory expansion. The enemy becomes more difficult as you destroy each ship, but you can get upgrades as well. There are three tiers of equipment; heavy, medium, and light; each with a unique set of weapons or technology that allow you to continue fights longer or handle large armadas. The items follow the standard rarity scale; common, rare, elite, artifact, and legendary.

If you feel like war is not the answer, you can always use the diplomatic approach. You can ally with other races and use resources to gain their trust. You can also exchange information or items for information or items they may have. I would normally try to achieve a trade pact to help boost my economy. If you would rather bring other empires down without firing a shot, you can also spread false propaganda and cause them to crumble from within. Either way, it is nice to see a diverse way to become the best without the mindless battles.

Each playthrough can vary in length and difficulty. It really depends on how you try to win. The few categories for winning are – gathering enough credits to please the guild, become feared by all remaining races in the sector, ally with the most powerful race in the sector, and become known as a legend to all of the races. This was mainly for solo playthroughs. I tried to do multiplayer playthroughs, but I could never find another soul to attempt this. Hopefully in the future, they will make finding a random companion easier in the future.

The graphics are not the greatest attribute for Drox. However, for the cost and the total size of the game, the graphics are something that can be overlooked by it’s great gameplay and randomization. The sounds in the game could use some work. Lasers sound like something you would hear in an early 80’s sci-fi movie. Another issue I had with the sound is that it was particularly loud at start and had to be adjusted before I could continue doing anything else.

I liked Drox Operative 2. There is a lot to love and tons of replayability. You can get burned out easily, but only if you aren’t trying to switch things up, which is easy to do if you randomly generate each playthrough. From races to difficulty to even the size of each sector, there is a ton of replayability that allows you to change how you tackle each new playthrough. The graphics and sounds are not what bring you in, but can easily deter anyone from paying full price. I would recommend waiting for a sale before picking this one up, but would recommend it.