Category Archives: Live Gameplay Videos

A Plague Tale: Requiem Releases October 18 and Unveils 10 Minutes of New Gameplay

A Plague Tale: Requiem, the sequel to the critically acclaimed A Plague Tale: Innocence by Asobo Studio and Focus Entertainment, announced its official release date of October 18, 2022 with an extended gameplay trailer during today’s Focus Showcase. Pre-orders are now available on PlayStation®5, Xbox Series X|S and PC!

In a new extended gameplay sequence, follow Amicia and Hugo as they make their way through a massive ochre-red quarry overwhelmed with soldiers eager to capture them. Fortunately, the duo has many new tricks up their sleeve and don’t shy away from getting their hands dirty. Watch how it all plays out and get ready to embark on their heart-rending journey into a brutal, breathtaking world, and discover the cost of saving those you love in a desperate struggle for survival.

Players were also able to get a closer look at the Collector’s Edition in this short teaser. Two tracks of the game’s soundtrack, composed by Olivier Derivière and featuring the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir were also heard during the countdown leading to the showcase. Players can buy digitally the two tracks here, directly from the composer.

Finally, PC players will be delighted to know that Asobo Studio and Focus Entertainment are working with NVIDIA to add NVIDIA RTX features to A Plague Tale: Requiem including ray tracing and NVIDIA DLSS. DLSS is NVIDIA’s critically acclaimed AI-powered tech that boosts performance without compromising image quality.

A Plague Tale: Requiem will release October 18 on PlayStation®5, Xbox Series X|S, PC and in Cloud Version on Nintendo Switch. The game will also be available Day One with Xbox Game Pass for console, PC and Cloud. Pre-order now and sign up as a Focus member now to get latest info and upcoming exclusive offers for A Plague Tale: Requiem and the whole Focus catalog.

Sniper Elite 5 Review – PlayStation 5

I’ve been playing the Sniper Elite games since the first one debuted back in 2005, but I didn’t truly fall for the series until I reviewed the second installment in 2012.  As a veteran Army sniper and former instructor at the U.S. Army Sniper School I have a particular fondness for this and another certain sniper franchise, Sniper Ghost Warrior, and both games have seen some true advancements to match the growing technology of PC and consoles.  I typically stick with the PC format for games like this, but for this review I went with the PS5 for the primary focus, but thanks to Sniper Elite 5 being on GamePass I was able to play and compare the PC and Xbox versions as well.

It’s been five years since the last Sniper Elite game, so I was expecting some significant changes, but instead got something that could best be described as an expansion or major DLC.  Relying on the aging Asura Engine, Rebellion seems to have reached the limits of that engine’s abilities when it comes to next-gen hardware with the consoles nearly reaching parity with PC performance.  Like the previous installment, Sniper Elite 5 returns to the open-world mission and map design where you are inserted into a specific area of engagement with one or two objectives and the ultimate freedom to complete them as you see fit along with the other optional tasks that will appear when discovered either through exploration or eavesdropping on any of the hundreds of guards and soldiers patrolling the area.

I was immediate impressed with the mission designs for all of the ten missions that clock in anywhere from 2-4 hours each depending on your thoroughness and playstyle.  Sneaking around will take a lot longer than rushing in guns blazing, which, in a sniper game, you really don’t want to do., especially since the AI is so much more aggressive in this fifth installment.  There is a line-of-sight alertness for the guards as well as sound detection.  Alerted guards will investigate in a three-step process of white, yellow, and red detection meters then proceed to work in coordinated fashion to distract, flank, and sneak up on you when you are looking through your scope.  Working without a spotter, I was quickly falling back to my actual sniper training to establish a perimeter of traps to protect my six.

Speaking of spotters, Sniper Elite 5 can be played entirely in co-op, which greatly changes the campaign dynamic.  You’ll still be going up against oppressive numbers of Nazis but there is some comfort in working with a partner.  You can watch each other’s backs, strategize on a coordinated assault, or even setup some crazy crossfire situations.  It definitely adds to the replayability of the campaign and the matchmaking system makes it easy to host of find a game to jump into.  And if you love “jumping into games” then you’ll definitely want to check out the Axis Invasion mode where you can insert yourself into somebody else’s campaign and try to take them out Dark Souls style.  If you prefer to play without these random invasions, you can toggle off the feature to keep your game private.  This invasion feature is pretty clever as long as you know that it defaults to “enabled” and aren’t totally shocked when real humans invade your campaign.  There are even some cool game mechanics specific to this like call boxes scattered about that will help you find the enemy invaders but using them will also alert the enemy to your location as well.

The core game loop is mostly unchanged from the previous game.  This time we are in France and Karl must use his special set of skills when he joins a covert Ranger team to infiltrate and join with the French Resistance.  Upon learning of a new Nazi project named Operation Kraken, Karl must go deeper into enemy territory to learn more and foil their evil plans.  This all plays out through a series of primary and optional missions as well as plenty of discoverable locations and collectibles along the way.  Along with all the weapons and ammo there are numerous pieces of collectible intel stashed around the levels; more than you’ll likely find in a single playthrough.  And don’t forget about those Stone Eagle and Gargoyle statues waiting to get destroyed.  You’ll sneak your way across some incredibly realistic terrain, recon your engagement area with binoculars to tag targets then plan your best strategy for covert infiltration…until something goes terribly wrong, and you must blast your way to freedom like John Rambo.  Your style of play is graphed in real-time, so you can see your balance of combat vs stealth in the results screen.  A true covert playstyle is almost too demanding, forcing you to clean-up after yourself.  In one mission where I let the bodies lie where they fell, I had 143 kills and 108 bodies were discovered.  The enemy AI does an incredible job of watching its own back, adding tremendously to the overall challenge of trying to remain covert.

As far as presentation, this is definitely the best the franchise has ever looked with new photogrammetry techniques being used to bring these real-world locations to stunning life.  The variety of environments combined with massive sprawling level design, expert enemy placement, and realistic AI provides the ultimate sniping experience, and is totally scalable with selectable difficulty settings.  The lighting and shadows are excellent, offering a great mix of day and night gameplay and everything in-between.  Of course, the signature element of Sniper Elite is the slow-motion bullet cam that tracks your kill shots from tip of the barrel to the point of impact, and often beyond.

As gratuitous and fun as these shots are the first dozen or so times, they do get tiresome and even invasive to the flow of the game after about thirty minutes.  You can totally adjust the frequency of these gory cutscenes or turn them off entirely.  I found they were only interesting during special shots that involved multiple soldiers, explosive items, or maybe a cool ricochet shot.  The actual X-ray cams have been seriously dialed back from previous games.  You used to see skulls explode and organs burst, but now everything seems to be more superficial and less gory with much of the carnage hidden behind large globs of blood spray and splatter.  As far as violence, Sniper Elite has lost its edginess with this latest installment and really needs a patch to restore the gore. (#restorethegore)

The rest of the package is fine with great audio, music, and voice over work.  There is a lot of foreign language, requiring you to read subtitles unless you happen to be fluent in German, but focusing on the text can often distract you from more important things going on, which makes it problematic when trying to eavesdrop and keep watch on your surroundings.  Audio is also put to great use as a distraction and concealment tactic by sabotaging various items to lure unsuspecting soldiers to your kill spot or perhaps just mask the sound of gunfire with the occasional backfire from a generator.  It was odd that when using the phonograph as a distraction there was no music playing…never…not once in the dozens of times I tried using it in multiple levels.  Missing sound file perhaps?

So how about that system breakdown.  The PS5 is a solid experience with visuals that are definitely improved over the last game but still starting to show their age when compared to similar titles.  Give the scale of these levels I’d guess they’ll be switching to Unreal Engine 5 for their next release.  Controls are problematic in several areas.  First, the right analog stick is way too sensitive, and you’ll need to back it down to around 40 to make the game remotely playable.  While the keyboard allows you to spread out the commands, playing on console means multiple actions for the same button, so prepare to be pissed off when you start boobytrapping a body instead of using your med kit, or you might rush up and hit the triangle button to stealth-kill a soldier but instead start searching a dead body who was six inches closer than the enemy when you hit the button.  I can recall more than a dozen unintentional actions, several resulting in mission failure and death.  The Xbox has similar controller issues while the PC version is saved by the classic mouse and keyboard combo.  Nothing beats the precision of the mouse for aiming, but you’ll find it much easier to do most things with the mouse.  Most dead soldiers have multiple hotspots for looting a body or moving/hiding it and trying to line up on those tiny circles with the fidgety right stick to make those button prompts appear can get annoying.  I’m also not a fan of the radial inventory wheel, which never seems to stick my selection before I exit.

Sniper Elite 5 uses variable resolution scaling while striving to maintain that 2160p on both consoles, although the PS5 will dip as low as 1440p, and the Xbox Series X falls to 1656p under stress.  The Xbox Series S, while not personally tested, will top out at 1440p.  Naturally, your PC experience will vary based on the power of your rig, but my 3080ti had no issues maintaining a locked 60fps at native 4K with max settings.  Regardless of the system or the resolution, you will have to contend with some aliasing issues that can create some distracting shimmering effects in certain situations…even on PC.  Framerate is locked at 60fps for both consoles, at least during gameplay, but the cutscenes between missions and even some of the ultra-detailed X-ray kill cams can drop into the 50’s and even high 40’s at times.

If I had to rank the three versions for preference, I’d stick to the PC version followed by Xbox Series X then PlayStation 5.  Keep in mind there are only very minor technical and gameplay issues that factor into this ranking.  GamePass subscribers get the game for “free” on both PC and Xbox while PS5 gamers pay the full $60 and those wanting the game on Steam will only have to pay $50 for their copy unless they go with the $80 Deluxe version that includes bonus content and the Season One pass with access to four new missions.

Sniper Elite 5 advances the franchise beyond the games that have come before it.  While I appreciated the straightforward linear mission design of the earlier games, once the series adopted the open-world concept is when things literally opened up.  The ability to play co-op fundamentally changes the way you approach the missions and adds tremendous replay potential, and the addition of cross-platform multiplayer for co-op and PvP is truly appreciated.  My only major issues are with the toned-down kill cams and the troublesome controls when playing with a gamepad, and even despite those flaws the game is a blast to play with so much detail in such massive environments.  The castle level in chapter 3 feels like the same size as an entire city in Assassin’s Creed, and the sprawling indoor and outdoor levels are so dense and full of detail you can explore for hours without getting bored.  And with a season of new missions waiting in the wings, I expect I’ll still be playing this when Sniper Elite 6 shows up.  Let’s just hope they are using a new engine by then.

If you’d like to see the game in action, then check out our live gameplay video that covers the first mission in the game along with commentary (not mine).

Ghost on the Shore Review – PC

Ghost on the Shore is yet another walking simulator masquerading as an adventure game that puts you in the shipwrecked shoes of Riley, stranded on an island loaded with lore, secrets, and hidden history waiting to be uncovered.  Along for the ride is Josh, a disembodied ghost that provides some delightful conversation and banter along with some useful historical facts about the island and its former inhabitants.Similar to games like Gone Home and Firewatch, Ghost on the Shore basically has you walking around all sorts of creative locations searching for anything that glitters indicating something you can interact with, rotate, examine, or maybe just a picture to look at or a document to read.  Riley will even get to showcase her own artistic talents by frequently sketching specific locations in the world and adding her own creative touches.

Riley will get to shape her journey mostly through her interactions with Josh, and those decisions can lead to various outcomes for the game.  The conversation flow between Riley and Josh is actually quite special thanks to some wonderful voice acting by the two leads.  As you get further into the game, you’ll start to learn about both of the main characters, their pasts, and their motivation moving forward.  Dialogue choices are delightfully subtle at times with no way to predict the outcome of your choices, and you only get one shot at any given response, so choose your words carefully.

Eventually the game will diverge into one of four possible branches based on your relationship with Josh at the moment.  These all lead to four unique endings which, despite a lot of overlap in early gameplay, adds some replayability to the game if you want to see all possible endings.  A single casual pass through the game is 4-5 hours, but the way the branching works you cannot start from a save to see the other endings.  You have to replay and make difference choices.  Ghost on the Shore has an auto-save and no chapter saves, so if you miss something you really can’t go back for missed items.

Visually, Ghost on the Shore has a distinct artistic style that reminded me of early Borderlands; lots of low-poly models, flat shaded textures, and large swatches of landscape tiles dotted with various structures to explore.  Controls are simply and a controller works just as good as a mouse and keyboard for moving around and interacting with the world.  There is a lot of reading and a lot of listening, and I was annoyed that the game locks you into place while listening to recordings, many of which can go on for minutes.

Ghost on the Shore offers a very leisurely adventure game experience with limited inventory and virtually no puzzle-solving.  It’s a big world of discovery and enlightenment and a bit of relationship building with Josh.  For me, the whole Riley/Josh dynamic was what held my interest; especially when it became clear just how much a part of the island Josh was becoming.  This is definitely one of those games where you can sit back and relax and enjoy some interactive fiction.  There’s not a lot to tax your brain when it comes to actual gameplay, but there is a solid emotional drama waiting to be uncovered if you choose to explore the world of Ghost on the Shore.

You can see Ghost on the Shore in action in our first look video along with commentary.

Chernobylite Review – PlayStation 5

At first glance Chernobylite would appear to be just another derivative knockoff of games like Metro, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. or any of the numerous Fallout games, but it only takes a few minutes of actually playing the game to see this is much, much more.  Blending real-world locations and events with crazy paranormal, sci-fi themes, Chernobylite will have you exploring, looting, crafting, sneaking, and engaging in deadly combat with man and monster as you search for your lost love, Tatyana.

Previously played and reviewed on the PC last year, I had a great time with Chernobylite both then and now; perhaps even more so now that the game has been given the royal RTX treatment, adding all new flashy lighting and reflections to bring this world to even greater levels of realism and life.  While the PS5 obviously can’t match the presentation of a powerful PC it certain offers one of the best possible experiences on consoles with your choice of 60fps Performance mode rendering at 1080p or a Quality/Resolution mode rendering at 1512p; upscaling nicely to a 4K output.  One additional perk is that the PS5 version does not suffer from the infamous shader-render stuttering issues currently plaguing PC games.

You’ll be playing Igor who we see in the opening movie traveling by train with Tatyana, but things turn sinister as reality shifts and we are left on a ghost train stuck in the woods following a ghostly image of Tatyana who beckons us to follow her deeper into the forest.  The presentation at this point is outstanding with incredible environmental graphics, trees and grass blowing in the wind, eerie lighting and shadow, and fallout particles drifting around like aimless snowflakes.  It’s all accompanied by a chilling soundtrack that continues throughout the duration of the game, creating and enhancing your emotional investment into the story and gameplay.

Unlike most games of the genre that are linearly driven by the story, here you are given unprecedented freedom to play Chernobylite pretty much how you see fit; at least once you’ve completed the somewhat linear intro and tutorial section.  At first the game appears to have the standard crafting loop of collecting “junk” and turning those ingredients into something beneficial, but all too soon you are introduced to base building where you can collect scrap and turn it into useful equipment for your home base; everything from a workbench to a bed and much more.  You also get to recruit companions and build a team that you can assign to daily missions, sending them out to forage for food, ammo, and other supplies.  The larger your team the more objectives you can complete, which is crucial because missions expire in a day or two.

The core gameplay loop is completing these daily assignments for both you and your men, as well as slowly building up your base and other resources to tackle the increasing threat in the Zone.  Igor has a nifty scanning device that can filter for a variety of resources, sending out a pulse to light up matching collectibles; a very useful tool indeed since the world design and environmental detail is surprisingly rich and complex, making it nearly impossible to find anything without this visual aid.  You can carry a lot of items, most of it crafting materials while other more useful items can get assigned to quick access slots on the D-pad.  Most items fall into either gear or food categories; something you learn when you start trading with vagabonds that wander the Zone.

Igor is a professor in search of a rare substance called Chernobylite that seems to be a byproduct of the Chernobyl explosion in 1986.  This substance has several unique properties including triggering telepathy as well as emitting exotic energy that can be used to power Igor’s portable wormhole generator that allows him to open a tear in space-time and travel through it.  The game makes expert use of this wormhole concept as well as time-shifting sequences that flash back to the 1986 disaster where we see scientists and staff trying to avert the infamous explosion.

There is a lot going on in Chernobylite, both narratively and in balancing the mission assignments and base building where you need to account for comfort, air quality, radiation protection, and sleeping accommodations.  Survival outside the bunker is just as problematic as you must monitor not only physical health but also your mental state (or psyche) and the effects of persistent radiation that slowly eats away at your max health unless treated with a variety of crafted remedies.  You also have larger environmental modifiers that can be crafted to actually improve your surroundings, but these must be concealed so monsters and enemy soldiers can’t find and destroy them.

From a visual perspective Chernobylite truly shines with some of the most impressive graphics I’ve seen this year.  The level of photorealism is off the charts here with high-resolution scans of real-world locations used for photogrammetry quality backgrounds, models, and textures.  We’ve all probably played at least one game or seen one movie with that signature Ferris wheel and other park rides nestled into that large complex of buildings in Pripyat.  There is even a VR experience for the Oculus Rift that takes you on a meticulously accurate tour of Pripyat and the power plant.  Chernobylite rivals even that documentary-style footage to create a hauntingly original game space both inside and out.  Combined with fantastic character animation, lighting, shadows, and other particle and special effects, this is an exciting and unforgettable experience.

To balance all the praise I’ve been heaping on Chernobylite it’s worth noting the experience might not be for everyone.  The pace of the game is slow, favoring stealth over direct encounters and combat.  The enemy AI is brutally unfair, and once they detect you they seem to have this magical awareness of your location despite any efforts to break line-of-sight or hide.  While the Fallout 4-style base building is fun in theory and does give you some agency over your game experience this type of gameplay doesn’t always blend in with traditional first-person survival games.

Those looking to explore the weapons’ side of things will find a rather disappointing selection of firearms with minimal upgrades and attachments; just another element that indicates stealth is prioritized over combat whenever possible.  Your primary selection of weapons are pistol, shotgun, and machine gun, and the latter two are nearly impossible to find ammo for.  There are a couple of other rare weapons that are so OP they nearly break the balance of the game.  Enemies are also limited to maybe six types, most of which aren’t that scary and only threatening because of their Terminator-style AI and unbalanced scripting combined with poor aiming and no apparent targeting assist.

There is still plenty of fun to be had with Chernobylite and for the right type of gamer this could be your next Fallout 4 fix until something better comes along.  Thoroughly exploring all the missions should make this experience last 10-12 hours, yet despite the non-linear approach to gameplay and the diversity that can arise from base and team building there is very little reason to replay Chernobylite.  Most of the non-mission gameplay just seemed to artificially pad the experience, but I’m not the biggest fan of strategic base building unless it’s in a dedicated game such as Evil Genius 2.

Chernobylite is a great addition to the Russian post-apocalyptic niche genre, and while it is certainly no substitute for a game like Metro it does offer just enough originality, suspense, and intrigue to give it a look.  If you’re on the fence about the balance of actual gameplay versus wading through base-building and crafting trees then you might want to wait for it to go on sale, but I found the game refreshingly original where the good elements balanced out the slower and more tedious aspects of gameplay.  It’s definitely worth a look.

To see Chernobylite in action check out our PS5 first-look video where we complete the opening tutorial, do some base building, and even complete our first mission.

MORE SCREENS w/ Raytracing

LEGO Builder’s Journey Review – PlayStation 5

I love LEGO.  I grew up with the plastic bricks, I own every single LEGO game, and I’ve seen every episode of LEGO Masters, so I was pretty excited when I heard about LEGO Builder’s Journey.  Created by Light Brick Studio, this new puzzle game sounded like a great idea, solving puzzles using LEGO pieces.  After all, every other LEGO game I had played up to this point was asking me to smash and destroy environments to collect bricks.

Despite a few camera and control issues, I really enjoyed LEGO Builder’s Journey when it released on PC last summer.  I’m sure part of my infatuation had to do with the RTX support for ray-traced graphics, which brought these plastic pieces to life unlike any LEGO game before it, and now the game has made its way to the PS5 with most of those visual flairs intact.  Some sacrifices had to be made on the console such as a native 1662p for 60fps mode, while activating ray-tracing knocks things down to 30fps; admittedly, not a big deal on a game such as this where you are playing mostly static screens with a bit of camera rotation available as needed.  Rather than the typical Performance/Quality choice we often see in PS5 video options, now we only get a toggle for raytracing to determine FPS, resolution, and quality.  While a powerful PC was able to render this game at native 4K with raytracing, the PS5 still manages to do an admirable job of upscaling to that same resolution even if the ray-tracing quality is only able to match the “medium” settings of the PC.A few of the issues I had on PC are still lingering on the PS5; namely a camera system that will always snap back to a default isometric view of the scene.  In a 3D game such as this, being able to see the level from any angle is important, and I really want a totally manual camera, at least during the build process.  And the control issues are also back.  I found the PC version unplayable with an Xbox controller and resorted to mouse input for my time on the PC.  Now that the game demands a gamepad, I was hoping the developers had sorted this out.  Sadly, only a few levels into the game, the same issues arose, and I was unable to precisely pick-up and place pieces reliably.  This leads to increasing frustration as more pieces are added into the mix and certain timing puzzles come into play that require fast and accurate placement of the stepping pieces that allow character movement.  I’m also not a fan of using the same button for multiple actions such as using X to pick-up, rotate, and snap pieces based on tapping or holding the button.

If you are able to overcome these visual and control issues, then you are likely to enjoy your time with LEGO Builder’s Journey.  Compared to the more action-oriented LEGO adventures out there, this one comes off as slightly boring with puzzles that were overly simplistic or not even puzzles.  The game provides you with all the pieces needed to build whatever object or bridge you need to get from A to B and advance to the next scene.  It was really weird to see these lovingly crafted dioramas swept away after only one or two clicks on some of the easier puzzles; the time of their creation versus their appearance onscreen vastly different.

There appears to be a story being told in LEGO Builder’s Journey, but I’m still a bit unclear on what it is.  Presented as a silent movie of sorts we have what I assume to be a father and son on a camping trip, and once they return home dad keeps getting called into work at the nearby LEGO factory, meanwhile the son builds a LEGO robot in the basement then gets stuck in the factory so dad has to rescue him but then the son and his robot have to rescue dad…it’s all very confusing and quite unnecessary to the enjoyment of the game, which is all about solving a few dozen puzzles.

The basic premise of the game quickly became boring about ten levels in and only started to get interesting when the game introduced new concepts like playing in the dark having to position a LEGO spotlight in certain positions and angles to reveal the level.  Much later in the game there are some cool puzzles involving creating your own LEGO pieces using a machine to duplicate whatever piece you have on a scanner.  And my favorite puzzles were at the very end where your robot would only dispense single stud pieces and you had to place them on the level adjacently to create bigger and more useful pieces.

Despite the charming visuals, soothing music, and almost Zen-like approach to gameplay I was always taken out of any joyous moment with the controls and my inability to accurately place pieces.  There were a couple of puzzles that required very fast timing and precise LEGO placement to get your character across muddy sinkholes or moving machine parts.  These would have been great if I hadn’t died so many times due to poor controls.  Even moving your character can become quite tedious since you have to place these orange stepping bricks one after the other to move him along.  On one level I manufactured a dozen of these bricks and had the entire path lain out but the character only moves after placing the piece, so I literally had to pick up and reattach each piece to move him forward.  There are a few levels where your character is wearing skates and you get to build a train track-like path from start to finish out of smooth tiles then watch him skate to the end.

LEGO Builder’s Journey is equal parts pain and pleasure.  I love seeing how realistic LEGO blocks can look in a game and I hope to see this level of quality in future LEGO action games, but for me this was more of a proof of concept tech demo.  You can finish the game in 3-5 hours, and thanks to the new Creative Mode you now have reason to stick around after the story.  I even mentioned in my PC review that this game was in desperate need of a sandbox mode, and somebody must have heard me.

The new Creative Mode allows you to construct your own dioramas using a collection of themed scenes as a base then offers you a curated selection of bricks that fit with those themes.  This mode even assists you by automatically “suggesting” your next piece based on your last, or you can just dive into the toy box for whatever piece you want, and the handy paint tool lets you recolor the scene to create the perfect masterpiece.  Naturally, the game offers a fun photo mode where you can adjust lighting and camera angles to snap and share images of your creations.  While not exactly as freeform as dumping a few thousand bricks on the carpet and going wild, this Creative Mode is just the breath of fresh air LEGO Builder’s Journey needed.

Thankfully, there is nothing wrong with this game that can’t be fixed in a future patch or update, but if they haven’t done it yet then I doubt they will.   $20 for a few hours of awkwardly snapping LEGO pieces into environments somebody else had all the fun making seems like a bad idea.  The new Creative Mode is certainly a step in the right direction as far as content is concerned, but when the game is fundamentally flawed at the control and camera level I am cautious to make a recommendation. Even diehard LEGO enthusiasts such as myself might want to wait for a sale because LEGO Builder’s Journey still seems to be a better raytracing tech demo than an actual game.

You can check out the first half-hour of the game in our PS5 First Look video to see the graphics, hear the music, and watch me struggle with snapping pieces together fast enough to get out of a mud pit.

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.

Pinball FX Early Access Review – PC

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

I’ve been a big fan of pinball since the early 80’s and my days spent donating quarters to the various arcades around town.  When I got my first Atari 800 I spent countless days and nights creating my own pinball tables in EA’s Pinball Construction Set.  Jump ahead two decades and I was falling in love with pinball all over again with the original Pinball FX on Xbox Live Arcade – anyone remember that service?  Since then I have reviewed every pinball game Zen Studios has released including:

  • Pinball FX & Pinball FX2 on Xbox 360
  • Zen Pinball and Zen Pinball 2 on PS3
  • Planet Minigolf with and without the Move on PS3
  • Zen Pinball 2 on PlayStation Vita
  • Zen Pinball 3D on NDS
  • Flipper Critters on NDS
  • Marvel Pinball on PS3 and Marvel Pinball 3D on NDS
  • Pinball FX 2 & 3 on PC & PS4/PS5
  • Star Wars Pinball VR on Quest 2
  • Pinball FX2 VR on Oculus Rift S

Since January, 2016 I have posted over 100 reviews and news articles for the various games and table releases from Zen Studios and posted over a dozen gameplay videos.  So why am I telling you all this?  So you know how much I love these games.  I have all 100 tables for the PS4 including the recently released Indiana Jones.  I have 30 DLC tables on Steam for the PC version of FX3 along with all the tables for the Oculus VR version.  Thankfully, Zen Studios provided me with codes for most of these, and I’ve only had to pay for nine tables out of pocket back during the migration from FX2 to FX3 on the PlayStation.  So when I start talking about financial stuff in a minute I might not seem as financially invested as some other gamers out there, but I am very much emotionally invested in this franchise.

When the new Pinball FX was announced back in January of 2021 I was beyond excited, then after more than a year of waiting I honestly forgot all about it.  I was content, playing my VR versions of the game, but was happy to check out the new Indiana Jones table that released a few weeks ago on PS4/PS5.  Then, out of the blue here comes the announcement that an all new next-gen Pinball FX was up on the Epic Game Store and ready to go with 38 tables updated for 4K, raytracing, and updated physics.  Sign me up.

The core Pinball FX game is free, so anyone can check it out to some degree, but the entire pinball landscape has been drastically altered.  The game is now a “service”; a shell basically, designed to drain your wallet as fast as you can click on those in-app purchases.  You have a few options on how to approach this new economy.  Unlike the previous game where you simply paid cash for tables, you must now buy Tickets in one of four bundles: 100, 220, 575, and 1200 starting at $10 and going up to $100.  The obvious incentive is that the more you spend the more you save with the small bundle equating to $.10 a ticket and the largest bundle coming in at $.08 a ticket.  This whole system is a big gimmick to lock you into an in-game currency that takes away your purchasing power to buy specific items for specific prices.  The bundles and the prices of the items are designed so you either never have enough tickets or you have tickets left over that you either need to add to or waste.  Anyone remember the dark ages of gaming on the Xbox 360 where you had to buy Microsoft Points?  Same deal here.

So what about all those tables you’ve been acquiring for the past decade or more?  Prepare to buy them all over again; at least the ones that are available.  A few fan favorites like The Walking Dead and Portal aren’t even coming.  There are currently 38 tables available at Early Access launch and there is currently a 33% OFF sale going on, which lets you snatch up 37 of those tables for $120 (220+1200 ticket packs).  Indiana Jones Pinball Adventure cannot be bought with tickets; only real money…$15 of real money.  So if they can do it for Indy why can’t they do it for the rest?

If you want to pick and choose when assembling your new library of old tables you can expect to spend anywhere from 40 to 60 tickets on average for a single table.  There are no more bundles, so every table needs to be bought separately.  I suppose this is good for those who disliked a particular table in a bundle, but perhaps they could offer a discount for those who do want all tables within a certain genre pack.

Of course what Zen Studios really wants you to do is pay for their new Subscription service; $15 a month or $99 a year for their Pinball Pass.  Imagine paying as much as GamePass or more than any of your video streaming services to access a few dozen pinball tables each month.  As mentioned above, you can buy all the tables (currently available) for $120 and be done with it.  Sure, this value proposition will change as more tables are added to the store, but for now paying any subscription fee is ludicrous.  Of course the safest way to play; especially during Early Access, and while Zen Studios is still figuring out some sort of “upgrade plan” for existing table owners is to NOT PAY A DIME!

The free core shell of the game allows you to play a rotating selection of two tables per day, so you still get a good sampling of the library; however, there are limitations when playing for free.  You don’t get the new game modes or custom unlocks or access to online leaderboards.  You’ll need to buy the table or pay the subscription fee if that matters to you.

So enough complaining about the gross monetization of a once beloved franchise; how is the actual update?  Sadly, not that impressive or even good really.  HDR is currently broken.  You have to enable HDR in Windows before you can toggle it on in the game, which unlocks two sliders for the game and the UI brightness.  Both default to 500, which I assume are nits, and both max out at 2000.  The initial setting of 500 casts the entire game into unplayable darkness and moving the slider to 1000 or even 2000 blows out the contrast terribly.  I immediately turned HDR back off.  Toggling on the RTX support did not show any noticeable improvements in visual fidelity, even when zooming down to the closer camera views.  No ray-traced reflections, no shadows, no nothing.  Again, this is all Early Access so things could improve with future updates.  Performance was disappointing, and my RTX3080 was unable to run the game at 4K in any camera view that had any table movement.  Fixed camera views were fine, but I had to drop resolution to 1440p to use moving cameras, and even then there were hitches in the video during the pre-game intro sequences.  At the end of the day I would prefer to just play on my hassle-free version of FX3 on my PS5 with all 100 tables and great controls.

Speaking of controls, I was playing Pinball FX using a wireless Xbox Elite II controller and also a standard Xbox controller that came with my Xbox Series X.  Both have severe lag issues when using the default trigger assignments for flippers.  If you slowly squeeze the trigger you’ll find there is several millimeters of travel before the flipper in the game activates.  This delay was causing me to lose balls right and left, but after tinkering with the control options I was able to get LB/RB for the triggers, and the lifespan of my balls went from 30-45 seconds to 2-3 minutes.

The only other thing worth mentioning is the trophy room where you can display various trinkets, posters, statues, and custom carpets you’ll unlock during gameplay.  They already did this in Star Wars Pinball VR on the Quest 2, and it was cool because it was Star Wars paraphernalia, but the stuff you are getting here is kind of lame.   I’m betting all sorts of junk will get added to the store to help you spend those spare tickets…just wait for it.

I’m sorry if I sound cynical, but it seems that corporate greed is taking over every facet of video gaming.  Everything has to be a live service or have excessive in-app purchases or some crazy monetization scheme.  If Zen Studios had just released the game even without the whole ticket scheme most people would pay the $3-4 per table and move on.  Sure, we’d love to have a free upgrade like FX2 to FX3 offered, but I’m not sure how that’s even possible since all my previous tables are on Steam and this is currently an Epic Game Store exclusive.  That alone is pissing off an entire and significantly large group of players who refuse to have anything to do with Epic.  Hopefully Zen Studios plans to bring this to Steam, as I suspect this is why we aren’t getting the Portal pinball table.

So, for now, it’s easy enough to download the free core game and dabble with the daily free offerings.  Just stay strong and avoid spending any money until a few more updates that hopefully include some performance patches and a valid upgrade path for owners of existing tables.  And when are those Marvel tables arriving?

For a quick overview of the new game design, menus, and store, and even a bit of pinball action on a few random tables, check out our first look video.


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.

GRID Legends Review – PlayStation 5

As I approach my 20th year writing reviews for Game Chronicles, it is only fitting that I find myself reviewing yet another great racing game from veteran publisher/developer, Codemasters.  Some of my early racing reviews were Codemaster games including TOCA Race Driver 2: Ultimate Racing Simulator, and while I didn’t actually review the original GRID back in the summer of 2008, I certainly played the hell out of it.  GRID was the natural evolution of the TOCA franchise, and this game would spawn a decade of future hits in both the GRID and DIRT lineage.  Not many current games can trace their roots back to 1997, but GRID Legends is here to put some next-gen polish on a much beloved racing series.

Currently available on current and last-gen consoles as well as PC, I had the pleasure of reviewing the PS5 version of the game, and yes, your powerful PC can most certainly outperform Sony’s new hardware, but you’ll need a video card that costs twice as much as a new console to do so.  Out of the box, GRID Legends is a stunner from menus and UI to presentation, game content, and certainly technical proficiency.  Play this game on a giant TV with a racing wheel and pedals in surround sound and you basically have a multi-faceted racing simulator.

After a few logos you are greeted by the grid-like menu system with a Home screen offering up curated challenges and special timed events that offer their own unique reward.  While Career mode is still the heart of the content the new “Driven to Glory” Story mode is the game’s soul.  This brilliantly designed component features an immersive story filmed with real actors on real sets telling the story of an up and coming race team, Seneca, trying to make their mark in the world.  The dramatic story bounces around from your own teammates to an egomaniacal opponent and rival team suspected of cheating to an injured teammate that we all end up rooting for in the end.  These FMV HD cinematics are part reality-show, part sit-down interviews mixed with the standard creepy cameraman lurking behind a bush filming a semi-private conversation.  It’s all quite convincing.

Naturally, you’ll be playing the voiceless Racer 22, newly discovered in part one of the story after winning the first of many races.  There are 36 chapters in the story, each with 1-3 race events and a few minutes of FMV story between to advance the narrative.  Obviously, since this is a scripted story you’ll have to finish within the required standings of each event to advance, but coming in first place is only required in the game’s epic final race.  All other times you have some fairly attainable goals.  Even podium finishes aren’t required until the final few events.  Of course in the spirit of Ricky Bobby, those who accept nothing less than a first-place can replay any story event with no penalty or change in the script, and if you fail to meet the required objective you will be forced to replay the race.  Expect a good 5-8 hours to finish the Story mode depending on your skills and chosen difficulty level.

Moving on to the Career mode you have four tiers of events ranging from Rookie to Semi-Pro and Pro and each with a varying number of Classes per tier totaling 64 Class events.  Tiers and Classes within those tiers are unlocked through progression through unlocked portions of the career; for example, the first Rookie tier opens up to 8 Classes, several of which are locked until you complete enough events from other accessible content.  Classes will have a percentage completion based on the events won, so if you go to Rookie then Electric class you’ll find three events (only two of which are unlocked) you’ll need to finish for 100% completion, which is only 1/8th of the total Rookie tier completion.  It’s kind of crazy how this is all laid out and how things are slowly unlocked, but it does keep you hopping around so you don’t get bored or stuck on one class type or event series.

The Social blade offers up Quick Races with random players or you can search for your ideal race situation or even create your own session, and now that EA has acquired Codemasters you also have easy access to your EA Friends list for private matches.  The Race Creator panel gives you complete control to create and customize every element of your event from classes of vehicles or even just one type as well as modifiers, disciplines, location, day and weather conditions, laps, and more.  You can then save these to any of four slots for easy recall.

Next up is the Garage where you can buy new cars from any of the ones you have unlocked through gameplay.  Cars have their own set of stats, and each car even has its own odometer which tracks how much you drive it, which in turn unlocks three sets of upgrades based on mileage, almost like a loyalty bonus. The Team options let you customize settings like team name, driver name, as well as a team logo and banner.  Anyone who played last year’s DIRT 5 will know exactly what to expect here; hundreds of unlockable graphics you can choose to personalize your profile.

An important part of the team settings is choosing a Sponsor from a growing list of companies that will give you various milestone challenges in exchange for cash rewards.  Some of these challenges are passively easy like finishing five nighttime races, while others will require driving certain car classes or performing certain actions like drafting or handbrake turns.  Once you have completed all the sponsor goals you can pick another, but there is actually some strategy involved in choosing the appropriate sponsor for what you plan to be doing in the game.  If you are about to go through the Touring car events then you might want to find the sponsor that rewards for driving Touring cars, etc.

Also in the Team menu are Mechanic Development upgrades; basically a three-level skill tree where you spend race earning to buy perks like car discounts, cheaper parts and repairs, or bonus earnings or even access to more sponsors.  Similar to this tech tree is the Teammate Development screen that offers another three-tier set of unlocks that will help you customize your Seneca teammate.  While your teammate plays a critical part in the Story mode you can also use your teammate during races by issuing commands with the D-pad; things like blocking or pushing an opponent.  The settings in this tech tree enhance those abilities as well as other passive skills like driving better on wet pavement or even just getting out of your way if you are coming up behind them.

There is a staggering amount of content buried in GRID Legends, and this review only covers the major stuff.  There is a whole screen of Progression Stats that track XP earned in each driving class as well as event completion.  There is a whole currency system in place that rewards you with winnings while deducting expenses such as car repairs and general overhead fees, most of which can be lessened by those Skill Tree perks.  Early on you might win 10,000 credits and pay out 5,000 in fees, which makes earning credits slow at first, but once you have purchased all the developmental skills there is nothing left to buy but cars; over 100 cars at launch and more on the way.

So now that we’ve covered the content how about that presentation?  GRID Legends looks incredible, even if it is slightly constrained by being a cross-generation title.  Everything about the game from the menus to the story presentation is clean and efficient.  Jumping into the game you get a flawless 60fps experience regardless of the track or how many cars are on it.  The locations are stunning, many of which have appeared in other racing games, so some might seem familiar but have never looked better.  The level of detail is off the charts with confetti and colored spotlights, and fireworks that are dangerously distracting.  The draw distance is to the horizon with no pop-up, no visual texture detail shifts based on range, and no shadow fluctuations.

You have multiple camera options ranging from near and far chase cams to bumper, hood, windshield, and dash with and without a wheel.  Interior views offer functioning rearview mirrors and working instrument clusters and the ability to free-look with the right stick.  This is without a doubt one of the most realistic driving experiences from a cockpit perspective I’ve ever played, with ultra-realistic lighting effects that create glare and reflections just like in real-life.  I suffer from photic sneeze reflex and there were certain events that had me driving into the sun, and the HDR was so bright it was triggering sneezing.  I literally had to wear sunglasses on some events based on the time of day.  It’s also worth mention that the rain races are some of the best I’ve ever driven, with reflective streets, droplets on the hood and lens of external cameras and realistic rain and wiper effects from inside the car.

The audio package was outstanding with a typical assortment of “race music”, great sound effects for engines, scrapes and crashes that are realistically muffled based on camera choice.  Rumble strips from the cockpit are much different than the hood or bumper cam as are the engine sounds.  And we can’t overlook the awesome voice acting for the Story mode actors; some of which were so convincing I thought they had managed to get a real mechanic to act.  One thing that puzzled me was all of the in-race commentary taking place while you are driving.  I’m not sure if it’s a bug or a super-realistic attention to detail but the sportscasters can only be heard over the trackside PA system once the race starts, so if you are driving from inside the car you can’t hear any of the commentary, but it is subtitled if you dare to look down and read it while going 150mph.  Even driving from an outside camera view you can only hear this commentary when passing PA speaker poles.  Admittedly, this is totally realistic, but from a gaming perspective I wish there was a way to change this because the bits I did manage to read were pretty accurate play-by-plays of what was happening on the track.

Controls are also excellent with the DualSense providing some superior control and a minor amount of rumble; certainly nothing as robust as the feedback in DIRT 5 which actually popped a spring in my controller.  There’s no use of the controller speaker for radio conversation or even a clutch noise.  I only used the DualSense for a few races before sliding behind my G923 racing wheel and pedals, and the game came alive in new ways, offering the ultimate immersive experience.   As with previous Codemasters racing games, there is a nice assortment of driving options and assists to tailor the experience to your liking.

EA managed to smartly get this game launched a week ahead of Gran Turismo 7, so everyone who wanted had a full week to experience this fantastic racing game.  While I am also playing Gran Turismo 7 (not for review) I find both experiences drastically different, and for all but the most diehard sim-purist I would have to tip the scale in favor of GRID Legends; especially when it comes to mass appeal.  The engaging Story mode, massive Career mode, along with the robust skill trees, and online racing makes this one of the best Codemasters racing games to date.  Plus, as an added bonus there are no micro-transactions or constant online connection required for single player.  There will be paid DLC coming in four drops over the next year for those who want to enhance their core game experience.   I look forward to when the GRID franchise is no longer constrained by last-gen support. I’ve been a fan for almost 15 years and can’t wait to see what they do next.  Until then, I’ll see you in my rearview mirror…

If you’d like to see GRID Legends in action you can check out our First Look video with commentary.