Category Archives: Game Reviews

Orbital Bullet Review – PC

Fans of the Tom Cruise sci-fi action flick, Edge of Tomorrow might remember the controversial rebranding when the movie released on DVD.  Those famous three words: Live. Die.  Repeat.  Pretty much the core premise behind any rogue-lite; a gaming genre specifically designed around the assumption you will die…often.  Orbital Bullet is no exception to the rule, yet it does offer enough originality to modify the slogan to Kill. Die. Modify.  A bit catchier if you ask me.

Orbital Bullet has a lot going on, and most all of it ranges from good to great.  What could have easily been dismissed as “just another rogue-lite” commands your instant attention with its signature circular design that puts a unique “spin” on the traditional side-scrolling shooter.  But it is more than just a visual hook; the levels themselves are designed around this core design premise with both verticality and depth, with many levels featuring concentric rings that you can move in and out of, creating all sorts of interesting combat dynamics.

As a shooter you are only as good as your weapons, and Orbital Bullet has plenty of those along with all sorts of crafting, body mods, and upgrade opportunities that you will need to explore and exploit on future replays to get further into the game.  You’ll earn Nanobytes during gameplay that can be spent on permanent upgrades and skills that will make you live just a bit longer than before…hopefully.  Dynamic skill trees allow you to not only customized your character with new powers and abilities, but you can also customize the tree itself, allowing you to personalize the gameplay to your own style.

Each replay presents you with fresh challenges, as everything is procedurally generated from level layouts to enemy placement.  Every run is new, as is your approach to defeating the enemies and advancing as far as you can until your ultimate and often untimely death.  The game is expertly balanced in such a way that you are always getting something new between runs that compels you to “try again”, making this one of the more addictive shooters I’ve played this year.

There is a surprisingly amount of strategy buried in the combat, with various enemies requiring certain tactics.  Some enemies can attack across rings, forcing you to avoid their fire until you can make your way to their ring and defeat them.  Some enemies have shields that require you to attack from the rear either by jumping over them or circling around the opposite direction.  Thankfully, the controls are responsive, and the resulting gameplay is incredibly fun.

You’ll occasionally come across a shop where you can buy upgrades, keys, etc. or maybe get a new weapon during the actual mission.  There is also a hub area you’ll visit between lives where you can do all sorts of game prep; crafting, shopping, etc. before launching yourself back into the mayhem.  Since you can’t take your current Nanobytes into the next life it’s best to spend as much as you can before leaving this area, even partial upgrades.  There is also a workstation that requires you to defeat six council members to unlock; clearly an end game objective.

In addition to the striking 3D level design I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding pixel art on display here.  Normally I don’t care for these retro graphics; I got my fill in the 80’s and 90’s and have since moved on to raytracing and 4K, yet somehow the art style in Orbital Bullet transcends the blocky pixels, and when in motion I would stack this up against any modern shooter.  There are plenty of unique themes for the levels based on planets and environments such as water, forest, caverns, etc.   The colors and explosions and particle effects are off the charts to the point where it can even get distracting and hard to follow the action at times.  This is pure pixel art insanity, and it is all scrolling around so fast and smoothly it could even trigger some motion sickness.

Complementing the visuals is a soundtrack that can’t be beat.  Sometimes I think it was the music that actually hypnotized me into playing longer than I normally planned.  While the soundtrack can be purchased as part of the “Save the World” bundle I found no way to buy the OST as standalone DLC.  The rest of the audio mix is equally as powerful, with great weapon effects, explosions, and plenty of atmosphere to bring these spinning worlds to life.

Orbital Bullet is definitely a pleasant surprise and a great way to kick off a new year of PC shooters, especially if you are a fan of the rogue-lite genre.  Yes, you will die a lot, but with each death comes a fresh renewal that will reward you with better weapons and abilities that will let you get just a bit further and let you see just a bit more of what this exciting and addictive shooter has to offer.

To see the game in action, check out the first hour of Orbital Bullet in our gameplay video with commentary.

Young Souls Review – PC

Beat ‘em ups are not as common as they used to be. Modern beat ‘em ups focus on trying to be a multiple genre game and tend to fall flat. Young Souls, however, is an exception to that troupe. With a lot of spunk and individuality, Young Souls is a beautifully drawn and written co-op beat ‘em up that brings on a lot of RPG elements.

Young Souls‘ story follows Tristan and Jenn, twin teenage delinquents who lost their family has been taken in by the Professor. One day, the Goblin King, Dwarvengobben, kidnaps the Professor with the intention of forcing him into helping with an invasion of the overworld. The twins follow the trail the goblins left and find the gate that leads them to their world. The twins are then tasked to track down runes and deliver them to their town’s mayor in order to delve deeper and rescue the Professor.

The characters and the scripts are well written. The twins are highly entertaining with their quick quips and the punk teenager theme. Young Souls does not have any voiceovers but does a solid job of keeping everything looking great and moving fluently in scenes. The cast’s personalities shine through, including Dwarvengobben’s Goblin commanders. The game is a sight to be seen as well. Characters are beautifully animated in 2D art and environments are 3D, making Young Souls the perfectly drawn 2.5D game currently out.

The gameplay is very reminiscent of old-school beat ‘em ups. You go from area to area fighting any baddies that come onto the screen and progress to completion. RPG elements are then injected in for a perfect combination. You can find and tweak equipment found through defeating enemies or completing quests. You can also buy equipment or potions to help make fights balanced.

The Underworld is divided into four sections. The first three sections are dungeon areas that lead to mini sections mostly gated off by locks that need keys found throughout each dungeon. You enter each area and destroy everything you come across until you make it to the end where you fight a mini-boss or a sequence in the story, which then usually leads to another level chunk or boss battle. Some areas in each dungeon are optional and can lead to more powerful loot and stronger rematches against old bosses.

Aside from the Goblin underworld, you also have free reign of the overworld. The twins’ bedroom is where they can level up once they have enough experience. You can also take them into the town itself either via fast travel or by riding the moped. The town has a gym for increasing stats and a couple of shops. A few of the shops include a blacksmith to help increase the stats of your equipment and a potion shop.

Some of the enemies you come across throughout the game can be very difficult. They can be resistant to parries and block most attacks you throw at them. On top of that, bosses can have up to four health bars, which makes all of the boss battles that much more difficult. Enemies also hit hard and fast. Some can even kill a character in two or three hits with no invulnerability time. These battles can be slow while making you do small amounts of damage with small windows of attack.

The difficulty does not just affect how hard the enemies can be. The player can carry a few lives depending on the difficulty chosen. The lower the difficulty, the more lives you have. This helps the player also learn the habit of the enemies while not completely being frustrated have to start from the top of the area. Once you have properly geared up and upgraded, Young Souls can feel astoundingly easy based on how you build your stats up. You can choose to increase your strength in the gym and wear light equipment that allows you to zoom through each area without having to worry about anyone being able to catch you. Or you can be super slow with no speed, wear the godliest equipment you can find, and smash anything with the flick of your wrist. There is no wrong way to become an unstoppable force.

Young Souls is a fantastic beat ‘em up that can be enjoyed with a friend or solo. The designs of the characters and the environment are beautifully drawn and are just as enjoyable as the gameplay. The writing is superb as well and each character has their own uniqueness to them. Bosses can be difficult and have you trying multiple times to conquer them, but with the right equipment and adjusting the difficulty, you can easily overcome them. Overall, I would recommend giving Young Souls a spin if you are looking for a new game to pick up.

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Tentacular Review – PC VR

Devolver Digital is known for their quirky game library and Tentacular might be one of their best games yet; especially when it comes to VR experiences.  After several hours of flailing my tentacles around in this adorable adventure I can easily say this is the most fun I’ve had playing an awkward eight-limbed mollusk since Octodad, even if I did have to play this one with six tentacles tied behind my back.

The premise is simple; you are a giant octopus who was found and adopted while still in your egg.  Raised alongside humans, this fish out of water story begins on your 16th birthday; a big day on the island of La Kalma where you are now an adult and must get a job and declare your purpose and contribution to society.  Already considered a social outcast of sorts due to your clumsy and destructive antics around the island, you have a lot to prove to your fellow citizens, and events are about to unfold that will give you just that chance.

Tentacular is a brilliantly designed game perfect for VR.  The experience unfolds as you travel from island to island, each presented as a charming 3D diorama that reminded me of the level design in The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets.  Each scene has just enough detail to bring it to life along with an eclectic cast of characters to interact with.  There is a surprising amount of dialogue in the game; none spoken but all delivered with easy-to-read speech bubbles, which leads to one of my few criticisms of the game.  There are many sequences in the game where you need to be doing some action that requires looking at what you are doing rather than at the text bubbles which are often out of view.  This can easily lead to lots of missed exposition and even instructions in some cases.  Important dialogue can be repeated but some story elements are lost forever if you miss their delivery.  Tapping characters on the head to trigger conversations is clever, and additional taps accelerate the dialogue one line at a time.

You’ll learn everything you need to know about how to play Tentacular while exploring the main menu.  There are numerous objects lying and floating around for you to grab with either of your tentacles that are extensions of your hands and controllers.  Holding the triggers activates the suction on your tentacles allowing you to grasp items and move or throw them around, which is mostly what the game will consist of.  All of the game systems have been incorporated into the design, so if you want to change options you press a button and a blimp lowers from the sky with a switch to access another island scene with more controls to tweak languages, graphics, speech speed, etc.  You can manually lower or raise the water level to accommodate standing or seated gameplay.  Even something as simple as resetting a scene or puzzle is physically represented by a Reset Shack with switches to reset the current scene or return to the main city.  The shack even has a guy living inside that will offer you hints; basically a charming page of IKEA-like instructions on what you need to do.

Tentacular is heavily story-driven although you do have a Playground area that slowly populate with new items as you unlock them during the story.  Otherwise you go from scene to scene, first with a meeting at city hall followed by a job assessment test and your first day at your new job, which leads to some truly surprising events of an extraterrestrial nature.  Every scene plays out like an activity set with certain tasks and objectives that all require manipulating objects within the scene.  One of my favorite moments was using powerlines to slingshot cargo contains and fuel tanks towards targeted structures and demolish them just like Angry Birds.

Tentacular is a charming interactive experience with a cute story and engaging physics-based gameplay that’s fun for the entire family.  The game is admittedly a bit linear and unless you are really having fun with the Playground area this is a one and done once you have finished the 5-7 hour story.  I played on both the Oculus Rift S and the Vive, and while the experiences are mostly identical I found the Rift S version looked slightly sharper and the Oculus Touch controlled more precisely than the Vive wands.  No matter which version you play you are going to have fun, and this has quickly become one of my top three VR games of 2022.

You can check out the first hour of gameplay on the Oculus Rift S in our first-look video with commentary.

The Ascent Review – PlayStation 5

The Ascent was absolutely built for me. I love cyberpunk dystopian settings in my RPGs and does this game deliver. Developed out of Sweden by Neon Giant and published by Curve Digital, the grimy and addicting adventure has made its way to the PlayStation 5. Originally launching in July 2021 on Microsoft and Xbox platforms via GamePass, the marketing struggled to differentiate itself from the behemoth that was Cyberpunk 2077. While launching mere weeks before the faux pas of the decade that was Cyberpunk 2077, it both bolstered excitement and stymied The Ascent’s first impression on players. With middling to high scores, I always felt that the small 12-man team at Neon Giant didn’t get their due credit for creating such an outstanding universe, and tight gameplay.

The game wastes no time throwing you into this world of corporate overlords and executive A.I. that has run amuck in creating a city based on profitable returns and climbing the literal and figurative latter. When the dominant mega-corporation, The Ascent Group, files for bankruptcy the stability of the world collapses. Power vacuum is made, and hungry competitors are eager to take control of the sprawl that is the multi-layered city. You play as an enslaved employee of the recently dismembered Ascent Group, who must survive the chaos and uncover the mystery of what caused this demise.

The gameplay is a top-down shooter where you’ll be upgrading your character with modifications, better guns, additional equipment, and stat increases. The game opens up very early on and even allows you to go up against enemies that are considerably above your weight class. I really enjoy then RPGs allow me to get my ass kicked as it raises the stakes and makes me feel like I could potentially get one over on the game should I grind out killing a tough enemy. Quests are doled out from a variety of characters each with different agendas and rewards. However, they do not deviate from your standard, “go here and shoot this” format.

It’s a bit more dynamic than typical twin-stick shooters in that the mods and equipment you choose can change your play style. I always went for a high firing rate and shotgun combo to pair with my grenades and “stasis” punch. While you can opt to duck behind cover and try to pick off enemies as they come towards you from range, I enjoyed the frenetic gunplay of managing cooldowns and dispatching enemies up close. As the story progresses, there’s little need to change up your tactics, but the world is so fun to run around in, that it never felt stale.

You’ll earn experience points and currency to upgrade and augment your character to your liking. Also, clothing and equipment are represented visually on your character, so you can run around with a Robocop arm, M.C. Hammer Pants, and a VR headset all you like. The extreme styles of equipment feel right at home in the eccentric city of tubes and neon lights.

The fidelity of the world and set pieces are a sight to behold. I loved walking around the city and reaching a new floor to uncover a whole new architectural style. There are shops and civilians milling about all with conversations about the happenings and news. It makes the world feel very real and lived in. It added so much flavor to the gameplay to hear an alien drone reassure his colleague to trust the corporations because they always know what’s best. It made me feel like a rebel, who could maybe buck the system if I just get the right shot.

With such a high fidelity of world and customization, the soundtrack and sound design compliments the visual presentation nicely.  The soundtrack is composed by Paweł Błaszczak, who you no doubt have heard in The Witcher and Dying Light. The synth and bass heavy soundtrack gave off Bladerunner vibes and does a great job of sucking you into a fight as well as allowing you to drift off looking at some interesting smokestack.

This port of the game runs much better and has been visually smoothed out compared to the launch edition. With online and local multiplayer, it’s easy to drip into other players’ games and run around together. I personally played it on easy as the game is more on the difficult side. I am still blown away at what this small team was able to produce. While the exclusivity window is now shut and the game is on the PlayStation platform, the team has had a chance to smooth out the rough edges. They’ve updated things like color schemes in the HUD to be clearer and made the game run better.

I would say that if the idea of mixing up Bladerunner with Robocop sounds like mixing peanut butter and chocolate, then jump right in. At the time of writing the game is on sale for $29.99 in the PlayStation shop and on Amazon. This is absolutely creds well spent.

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WRC 10 FIA World Rally Championship Review – Switch

When it comes to multiplatform games, the PlayStation, Xbox, and PC versions tend to be more sought after than the Switch. However, it is important to try to make the Switch version just as good as it is the most cost-efficient console to play games on. It also needs the capability to play remotely since that is a key feature. WRC 10 is the latest of the series to join the Switch, about 6 months after the other consoles. WRC 10 not only takes care to include the Switch but is a great addition for gaming on the go.

WRC 10 gives Switch owners a serious racing game, representing the real-world 2021 season of the World Rally Championship. It gives owners a racing game that does not involve Karts and power-ups. It carries some of the same features as its other console counterparts such as the Livery Editor, the Anniversary Mode, and new stages like Greece and Spain. It is missing WRC Esports, online multiplayer, and online clubs. It may seem like a loss but really does not affect the overall gameplay as there is still plenty to do. Compared to WRC 9, with the increased number of tracks, the combination of new vehicles, 52 official teams, and 4 new rallies, there is plenty of new features to enjoy on the go.

The handling is razor-sharp at first, making it seem flawless to follow the path as it weaves from left to right. Handling can be exaggerated when using some of the Anniversary vehicles, due to their less sophisticated drivetrains. Due to the Switch using digital inputs instead of analog, braking and smooth steering inputs in WRC 10 are almost possible to perfect based on the hardware alone. After lots of practice and adapting, you eventually forget that you are playing a simulator as you are driving fast and drifting at every turn. Using the cockpit camera gives you an overall realistic experience.

WRC 8 and 9 were both already stunning games in their own rights. WRC 10 has managed to make itself a truly stunning and hyper-realistic game. Realistically, compared to other consoles, the Switch is not nearly as powerful. With 30fps, there can be a few spots of dips and a loss of frames. That does not mean it is not a gorgeous game. All of the vehicles have a great visual presentation overall. The environmental stuff like dirt and sand managed to look pretty great when spewing from the tires. Some colors can be bland in handheld mode but look better once you play in dock mode. The same can be said with a majority of the graphical aspects of the game. Some environments could be a little distracting when they seem busy or have tons of things happening in the background.

One lingering issue that happened a lot was the long loading times. Loading times varied on what activity you were doing, but overall can be long. With how much is in the game and how every course alone is unique design and weather varying from sunny days to gloomy and cloudy. The only other lingering issue is the learning curve of the game as previously stated. It can be difficult for newcomers and cause a few new players to quit early, but if you stick to it, it can be your next best racing game. Otherwise, there is a lot to enjoy in this title. Especially being able to take it on the go.

WRC 10 can be a turning point for racing games on the Switch. It offers a ton of content to enjoy from. 120 special events, 10 total rallies, lots of new vehicles and modes to choose from, and new features like Livery Editor and Anniversary Mode. It is missing some features like online multiplayer and e-club. Plus loading times can really take a toll on your patience. However, these are not enough to take away from the overall experience and enjoyment for WRC 10. For being port to the Switch, it does a great job of keeping the graphics looking fresh and enjoyable on a console not known for being graphics killer. Sure it does not look as good as its PC counterpart, but being on a more economically friendly console, it truly is a stunning title. I would highly recommend picking it up and giving it a twirl if you are in the market for a new racer.

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Vagante Review – PlayStation 4

Roguelike or Roguelite?

I must admit, I’ve never really understood the minor differences that determine whether a game qualifies as one or the other, and a basic Google search will prove that most seem to have the same difficulty.  Regardless, the cult classic Vagante – originally released on the PC way back in 2014 by the three-person team Nuke Nine – is one seriously brutal nod to the early days of gaming when the D&D tabletop RPG gameplay evolved into dungeon crawling videogame RPG’s like The Bard’s Tale and Gauntlet.  After six years Vagante has made its console debut, and this is one game fans of the genre will not want to miss.

I’m going to let you know right now that these games are not my forte.  I tend to find them tedious and frustrating.  But I went into Vagante with a mostly-open mind, and I am glad that I gave it a shot.  Just please forgive me if I don’t cover every bit of RPG minutia to the detail you might be expecting, as I pretty much bumbled my way through as much as I could muster until it became simply too difficult to keep going.

Vagante is a class-based RPG, with three classes available at the start – Rogue, Mage, and Knight.  With an additional – Wildling – available later in the game.  Each class has its own unique attributes for attack speed, power, magic, and range.

The Rogue is the master of stealth and acrobatics, quick dagger attacks and archery.  The Knight is armed with a broadsword for close combat, and is tough as nails against enemy attacks.  The Mage is all about the magic – casting spells to obliterate multiple enemies at long distances. And the Wildling – well true to their name they are the berserkers of the game and use their fists to pummel enemies into submission.  Thankfully, there are plenty of weapons and spells scattered about that serve to fill the gaps rather quickly – resulting in knights who can cast some seriously wicked spells and mages who can wield a broadsword with the best of them.

The game quite literally dumps the chosen character off into what seems like a large open environment with two platforms and some bouncing square rocks.  I’m embarrassed to say it took me about fifteen minutes of trial-and-error to realize that there was absolutely nothing to be accomplished in that screen, other than to walk to the front of the cave and push up on the controller to enter the dungeon – you live you learn!

Once inside the procedurally-generated catacombs, the game treats you to a quick tutorial on the mechanics of the game – how to jump and climb, how to drop down levels, how to open boxes, how to attack enemies, how to avoid spikes, how to revive health – all the standard stuff.  Shortly thereafter you are thrown into the thick of battle with a multitude of monsters to warm up your skills.

From there, it becomes a traditional slog through the dungeons in search of a rumored treasure hidden within.  Throughout the game, characters are leveled-up sorta-semi-permanently using powerups and potions gained in their travels.  I say semi-permanent because the only thing truly permanent that I found in Vagante is death.  Yes, it’s old school die and you have to start over.  And there are certain traps which dole out insta-death, which can be frustrating as hell when you finally find yourself on a good run.  The developers tout “fair” enemies, but in my experience that was not always the case.

Vagante can be played cooperatively with up to 3 friends, either local or online. I didn’t have the opportunity to experience co-op play so I cannot really speak to it, but I would assume having friends along for the ride could help – albeit things could get a bit confusing with four player and enemies crammed in such a small gameplay area.

In terms of presentation, Vagante delivers a pretty amazing experience.  The visuals are old-school side-scrolling pixel-art similar to early Vagrant Hearts or the more recent retro title Spleunky.  While this stuff usually doesn’t float my boat, in the case of Vagante it totally works.  There’s a lot of detail hidden in the backgrounds that becomes illuminated as the character moves about with his/her torch that give the game a claustrophobic feel that is fitting of a game taking place deep within the earth.

But where Vagante’s presentation really shines is in the incredible musical score composed by Nashville musician Sam English.  It is some of the best original electronic-orchestral music I’ve heard in the last decade of gaming, and it really sets a beautiful tone to the gameplay.  I highly suggest you search up the soundtrack on SoundCloud and get a sample of what you’re in for.

I made no bones about it earlier – Rougelike or Rougelite – whatever you call it, this is not a genre of gameplay I typically enjoy.  But I can honestly say I did enjoy most of the time I spent with Vagante – until, of course, I gave up because it got just too darn hard and overwhelming.  But if you are a gamer that likes this style of game, and you like slogging through caverns and building-up characters over and over, I would highly recommend giving Vagante at try.  For $15, what do you have to lose?

.hack//G.U. Last Recode Review – Switch

Off to dive into The World for my third playthrough of .Hack//G.U Last recode; this time on the Nintendo Switch. I reviewed this what feels just last year but it was in 2017.  What has changed in five years since its last release you ask? To put it simply, not much. Yet again Bandai and Cyberconnect2 have given us not just one remaster but a package deal of three remasters and one new mini epilogue “game” that’s difficult to consider as an epilogue game due to how quickly it can be beaten; roughly 3-4 hours and it’s very linear as “Reconnection” was created as an ending to the installment. The .Hack//G.U series takes place in the far future where we have perfected VR technology to the point you can actually be the character you have created in games. “The World” is the name of the MMO you play in as our titular hero named Haseo.

.Hack//G.U. Last Recode or simply Last Recode allows you to play any of the original games from the G.U. series and either choose the standard story mode or activate “cheat mode” where, if you simply want to replay for the story aspect, you start out at max level and best items equipped. I personally did “cheat mode” just because I didn’t want to grind out anything and just wanted to remember some of the story as I went along. If you’ve never played this series and want to enjoy the combat I recommend playing normally, but if you simply want story elements, do C.M. and just enjoy it.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is a single player MMO-RPG simulator, so when you play the game and party up with characters you don’t get to control them; they are all their own characters in the game.  When I say “play” the game I have to also mention that you will also be doing a ton of “watching”, as this series is based on an anime and manga series as well. You’ll be spending a fair bit of time watching cinematics and talking to many NPC characters in-game as well. The cutscenes all look amazing compared to the PS2 days and if the game was a show, I could watch I would certainly do that any day.  Last Recode has kept the increased FPS of 60 that was part of the last remaster for PS4 and PC, but there’s only so much that can be improved upon, as background locations still looking pretty lackluster in comparison, I suppose that’s a sacrifice they just had to make since it’s not something in the forefront. Dungeons in Last Recode have about 3-5 varieties during the game all consisting of the same backgrounds of a church, a plain and a few other basic locations. Surprisingly, the Switch has kept up well with all of these improvements and runs the game as well as it did five years ago.

As with the last remaster released, they kept all the previous improvements to all three games regarding the quality of life such as combat has been vastly improved with characters doing more damage, battle speed has been increased and the inventory has been expanded, unlike the original games where you could only hold 30 items it has been upped to 90 pieces of equipment and 90 items as well. With the change from PC and switching to the handheld Switch, I noticed a significant change to the gameplay in regard to blocking, as I was back to having to take a chance on timing just like back in the PS2 days where input lag got you killed pretty much anytime you tried blocking attacks. Combat takes form in you controlling Haseo and only his attacks; the party members you bring along all do their own thing but the A.I does a decent job of knowing what attacks will be effective against enemies. In most MMO games if you lose in battle you had to resurrect at either the entrance to the dungeon or a town and come back and start all over.  Thankfully another improvement was the addition of a “retry” option if your whole party is wiped out during battle, saving you some travel time.

The final addition is the fourth volume titled :Resurrection which takes place months after the end of the third game and lasts roughly 3-4 hours.  It’s not a remaster but a complete new game created to close out the .Hack/.G.U series once and for all and it follows Haseo returning to “The World”, which is about to be shut down and reunite with some old friends and even encounter new ones, I won’t spoil the premise of Resurrection but as someone who thought the series needed just a little bit of closure this does very well in doing that.

I’ve now played the .Hack//GU series three times and while I’ll always be a fan of the series and understand trying to bring it to more markets with the Switch, there are just too many aspects of these games that don’t translate well to a handheld like the Switch. My biggest complaint at this point is the parts of the game where you must be on the “forums” while playing to scour and search for in-game messages. It pretends to be an online experience without being online and the size of the screen detracts from the experience. If Bandai is going to do another remaster, just let give us the original four games and be done with it.

While I only got the digital edition, Bandai has also released the “Begins Edition”, a physical deluxe version that includes the full game, official soundtrack as well as Manga and artbook. I do miss the days of getting goodies with your physical copy, but I’ll have to make do with digital.  It’s more fitting for a game about a virtual online word anyways .Hack//G.U Last Recode released on March 11th 2022 for digital downloads on the Nintendo Store.

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GRID Legends Tech Review and PS5 Comparison – PC

GRID Legends has been out for a few weeks now and we already have a review and gameplay video available for the PlayStation 5 version of the game, but I wanted to take a quick look at the PC version to see if a powerful rig could push this game to new levels of excellence.  For the most part, this will be a technical review and comparison to the PS5.  If you want to know more about actual gameplay and content specifics, then I encourage you to read Travis’ comprehensive coverage of the PS5 game.  As you are about to find out, there isn’t much difference.

For this review I was playing on an i9-9900 with 16mb RAM, an EVGA RTX3080 card, and a Samsung 860 Pro 1TB drive; a system that cost $3200 when bought back in early 2019 and later upgraded with the $800 video card in November of 2020.  I only mention price because we’re comparing to a console that costs $400-500 assuming you can find one.  Considering the pros and cons of both formats it is impressive what Sony can do for a sixth of the price.  Obviously, you can play GRID Legends on lesser, more affordable PC’s, but your experience will scale accordingly.

Sadly, GRID Legends is not a current gen exclusive on console; good news for those still stuck with their PS4 and Xbox One consoles, but bad news for those looking for a generational leap in quality.  Even stacking up against other racing games like Forza Horizon 5, Gran Turismo 7, and even Codemasters own DIRT 5, this game does seem a bit stuck in time.  You’ll likely figure that out if you look at the Steam recommended specs which suggest a GTX1080 or RX590 card.  Any dreams of fancy ray-traced reflections or shadows are dashed.

Occupying 50+ GB of space on the PC, GRID Legends does tip the scales in its favor in some areas while faltering in others and the first noticeable difference is in load times.  Everything on the PC takes much longer to load from the opening splash screens to the individual race events once you are finally in the game.  My SSD in the PC is fast but no comparison for the M.2 NVMe drive on the PS5.  Nothing on the PS5 takes longer than five second to load while the PC can take 10-20 seconds or more.  An early example is the epilepsy warning that appears when the game is doing its initial load; 24 seconds on PC and 3 seconds on PS5.  Playing on the PS5 is a fast and unencumbered experience, while the PC will have you tapping your gas pedal during lengthy loads.

Speaking of gas pedals, the PC version supports the same variety of racing wheel setups; likely more since the PS5 is kind of picky, but my aging G27 wheel worked just fine.  Using my Xbox Elite II controller offered up a more similar experience to playing on the PS5, and I did enjoy being able to customize my four paddles to act as paddle shifters and issuing teammate orders.  GRID Legends does offer up some rumble effects; not to be confused with actual force feedback.  This gives you a limited feeling of connection to the track, but the PS5 seemed to do a better job with more subtle effects in both the controller and the triggers.

Moving on to graphics, the PS5 is as basic as it gets with three options for HDR toggle, Brightness adjust, and a 120 Hz toggle.   Meanwhile, on the PC, we get two pages of options; the Basic page which looks a lot like the PS5, and the Advanced page that lets you tweak a dozen plus variables to get this game running smoothly on a variety of PC’s.  My 3080 card was able to run the game fully maxed out at 4K with no issues, but there is one additional setting (just off the bottom of the screenshot) for Dynamic Resolution where you can choose between OFF/30/60 and the game will change resolution on the fly to maintain your desired framerate. Interestingly enough I could not see any real visual difference between the PS5 and the PC running fully maxed out.  You will need to make sure you have HDR enabled in Windows prior to launching the game for that option to be available on PC.

The PS5 version of the game does have momentary framerate dips in certain situations such as shiny rain-soaked pavement with lots of cars in view, while the PC is rock-solid at 60fps in over seven hours of testing.  Subtleties such as trackside details, crowds, shadows and reflections are nearly identical between systems.  Global illumination is outstanding with some blinding sunlight at certain times of day, while reflections are handled with standard cube maps for the cars and screen space reflections (SSR) for wet pavement.  It was interesting that you do get dynamic water droplets on any of the camera views while racing but the water droplets on the hood of the car are baked into the texture and don’t change.

The PC version of GRID Legends does offer support for DTS:X as well as Dolby Atmos if you have the hardware and software driver to support it.  Overall, the sound design and presentation on the PC was nearly identical to the PS5 and Atmos height effect were only audible when driving under an overpass with cars above you.  The PC version does have the same issue Travis mentioned on the PS5 where there is a lot of commentary that is being subtitled during the race but that you can never hear.

If you already have a quality PC build then the PC version might seem the obvious choice for brute-forcing your way to maximum quality at 4K resolution, but if you happen to be in the position to choose between PS5 and PC you might want to take into consideration the added loading times on the PC, and then you have the more nuanced controls on the DualSense, assuming you won’t be using a racing wheel.

Bottom line: you really have to pick the game apart to find any substantial differences, and the fact that GRID Legends looks and runs on a $500 console just as good as a $4000 PC is a testament to Sony’s hardware and Codemasters ability to make a last-gen game look nearly as good as anything else competing for your racing dollar.  With a great mix of Story mode and Career mode challenges, GRID Legends is one of my favorite racing games of the year, and I encourage any and all race fans to check it out, and don’t forget to read our full game review for more content coverage and check out our PS5 gameplay video to see the game in action.

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Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 5 Review – PlayStation 5

I’ve been a huge racing fan for over 30 years now, and for the most part I stick to racing on four wheels, but I have been known to take a dirt bike for a spin, both in real-life and in video games, but even when a game like MX vs ATV shows up, I almost always head straight for the ATV.  Needless to say, I was a bit uneasy going into my review for Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 5.  It’s been years since I played a dedicated motorcycle racing game, and even when I did, they were more arcade in nature than something that aspires to be a true simulation.  Thankfully Supercross 5 offers up enough variety in difficulty and control assist options that I was able to find my groove surprisingly fast and then it was off to the races…

Obviously, this is the fifth installment in a series that I’ve never played, so I had no assumptions going into the game based on anything other than a somewhat exciting trailer I watched while the game installed itself on my PS5.  Starting the game greeted me with a menu that you’d expect to find in any racing game with a Home screen, hubs for Single and Multiplayer racing, and a page to customize your bike and rider and access to the Track Editor where you can create your own tracks or download tracks from the community. The Home screen is a bit of redundancy as it offers quick access to all those other pages only with fewer options.  Pressing the DualSense touchpad opens up your Profile screen with access to player and race stats for all the various modes, as well as special SX challenges.

Starting with the Single player component, you have options for Career, Single Event, Championship, Time Attack, and Free Roaming as well as the Futures Academy.  The Futures Academy is home to both the main tutorial for the game as well as numerous riding lessons that cover everything from the basics of riding to more advanced lessons like Jump Flow and Scrubs and Whips.  Once you have mastered those tactics you can test your skills in the Theory Lessons across multiple events.  Ironically, the game doesn’t really enforce or even suggest the tutorial lessons, which actually help a lot.  Many of my frustrations would have been eliminated or lessened if I had even done the basics at the academy before diving into a career.

Multiplayer consists of either joining a public lobby or creating your own public or private lobby, and there is even support for split-screen racing for a local challenge.  There seems to be a fairly active race community and finding races to join or racers to join my events was seldom an issue.  The multiplayer component plays heavily into the Track Editor where you can challenge others to test your tracks and get feedback.  The track editor is surprisingly easy to use and reminded me of my childhood putting together those slot racer tracks.  The controls and HUD were simple enough and once your creations are uploaded to the community you can start tracking downloads and likes.

The core of the game is the Career mode where you start with creating your rider by tweaking some variables such as build, height, country, and first and last name and a nickname and number for your jersey.  Outfits are pretty simple but you can customize through sponsorship affiliations that will add decals to your jersey and bike.  There is also an amazing helmet editor that allows you to create some true works of art, but after seeing what was already available in the user-created content I was content to enjoy the works of others rather than try to figure out how to create the perfect multi-layer design of decals and logos.  For those moments where your character appears without a helmet you can customize hair and beard style and color, eyes, and a variety of tattoos and piercings.  And for the final touch, choose from any of the available Celebration animations for your victory lap.

All of the events fall into one of three classes, 450, 250 West and 250 East, which basically determines the power of the bike and where and what events you are participating in.  Most tracks are indoors but some stadiums have open roofs that might allow for rain and wet track conditions.  Other events take place outdoors and there are even challenges and free roam potions of the game where you basically get to ride in large non-track environments.  Tracks all fall into similar design with plenty of sharp turns, long stretches of bumps known as whoops, and larger hills and ramps where you need to nail the speed and timing to achieve a perfect rhythm so you don’t crash into the front side of a bump or hill.  Clean riding and skillful moves earns your points that fuel your riders XP and leveling system that ties into tiered rewards and unlocks.

A racing game is only as good as its controls and coming from a genre where I almost exclusively use a racing wheel and pedals I was left with no choice but to learn how to play this on the DualSense, and for the most part it was pretty intuitive.  You can go into the options and make this part of the game as hard or as easy as you’d like with various assists for steering and balance.  Motorcycles have front and rear brakes that are controlled independently in real-life and that is a valid option here, but you might want to share those brakes; at least until you have mastered everything else.  Optimal use of the clutch is also an important part of maintaining your speed every time you reconnect with the track surface.

One critical aspect of MX racing is mastering your rider’s weight and balance with the right-stick.  Leaning side to side helps with sharp turns and moving forward or back will determine how you fly through the air and more importantly, land.  Again, there are assists to help you out and you can play the entire game without having to worry about balance and pushing or pulling on the handlebars.  While there is an aggressive rumble in the DualSense it doesn’t quite connect you to the action, and the lack of any haptics in the triggers was disappointing.

Supercross 5 looks nice enough but certainly not as next-gen as it could be; obviously due to this being a cross-platform and cross-generation release.  The riders look at least a generation old and the dirt tracks aren’t as 3D as they should be.  The grooves look painted on and don’t seem to worsen with each lap and certainly don’t affect bike handling.  No real dirt is getting kicked up; more of a volumetric tan cloud.  What does look incredible are the detailed bike models, especially if you pause and go into Photo mode where you can spin the camera around the bike and appreciate all the detail and even accumulated dirt and mud on the bike and rider.

The presentation is excellent with an overview of the track complete with fireworks and crowds cheering and good commentary, but it all grows repetitive after a few races and you’ll likely skip through these pre-race segments.  There is also a good replay system with numerous camera views from both in-game and TV-style shots.  In-game views include two chase cams, a handlebar view, and a fantastic helmet view where your visor gets obscured with dirt.  The two first-person cameras are as close to VR as you can get without wearing a headset and can easily cause motion sickness.

If you are into MX racing you don’t have a lot of options, although there is a new MX vs ATV coming out later this year.  Until then, Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 5 is pretty much the only game in town and while it’s not exactly my cup of tea, I did have some moments of fun, most of them not in the actual racing.   I did enjoy the challenging lessons of Futures Academy and collecting the letters to spell SHAPE in the outdoor levels was always exhilarating, always coming down to the final seconds for the final letter.  My biggest complaint with the actual racing was finding that balance of difficulty for both myself and the racer AI to keep things fun.  Most of the time I would shoot to the lead and win by two or more laps, but if I increased the AI difficulty I would come in last place almost every time.  The AI is either idiots or unbeatable, and moving through the career that difficulty would scale with progression, making it even harder to find that sweet spot.

I’m not going to say not to buy Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 5, but just be warned that it is a very acquired taste and unlike most other racing games, even motorcycle racing games.  It’s also a $60 title on the PS5, so if you are on the fence you might want to wait for a sale.  There is a bit of fun to be had with this game, but you’ll spend more time learning to play than actually playing.  On the bright side, if you enjoy creating stuff then the track and helmet editors are second to none and will offer hours of enjoyment.