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Solar Ash Review – Ash Wins-day

Solar Ash is built like a skatepark in a lucid dream. The ground you skate across looks and acts like an ocean-sized mattress pad–blue and bumpy and bouncing as you pass. Floating islands are connected by grind pipes, which only emerge after you transport glowing spores from one mushroom to another. Red, bulging eyeballs act as the locks on gates made of black ooze, which you slash to gain passage. Much of what you see in Solar Ash makes little sense, but you move through it so quickly, the boss battles you fight are so exhilarating, and the puzzles you solve to reach them are so satisfying, that the dream logic of this world’s construction feels like the necessarily slight distance to keep the good times rolling as you move from Point A to Point B.

The second game from Heart Machine, the developer of 2016 indie gem Hyper Light Drifter, retains that game’s color palette–expect plenty of pastel blues, pinks, and purples, with the occasional threatening red–but changes just about everything else. Hyper Light Drifter was a blisteringly difficult Zelda-like which presented its glitching neon overworld from a top-down 2D perspective. Solar Ash, meanwhile, is a 3D action-platformer in which you traverse its world on some futuristic version of inline skates, cutting up enemies with ease. Solar Ash presents its dreamlike world and asks you to explore it by jumping, skating, and grinding along pipes. What the two games share is a structure that, while fairly open, is constantly funneling you toward show-stopping boss battles. In Hyper Light Drifter, that open-ended structure applied to the entire map, with four sections that could be tackled in any order. Solar Ash adopts a more traditional linear structure, unveiling six increasingly wide levels one at a time. In each, you must hunt down multiple puzzles that, upon completion, let loose a massive boss. In each, there are plenty of audio logs and armor pieces waiting to be found if you take some time to explore.

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Now Playing: Solar Ash Video Review

As you set out on this quest, you take control of Rei, a “Voidrunner” who has traveled into the “Ultravoid”–a massive, world-destroying black hole–in an attempt to activate the “Starseed,” a device the Voidrunners have created in an attempt to destroy the Ultravoid. When she arrives, her home planet is in the Ultravoid’s grasp, but Rei hopes that if she can restore power to the Starseed, she can save her home planet. The game sets up too many Proper Nouns early on–all those terms are hurled at you by way of an introductory slide–and it struggles to communicate what exactly the stakes are and why we should care. But the basics are simple enough and will be familiar to the denizens of an Earth currently staring down the barrel of climate emergency: The planet is in imminent danger, the people in charge have squandered every opportunity to fix the problem, and, though it may be futile, our hopeful character is trying to do what she can to undo the damage the ruling classes have done. Where Rei’s path diverges from climate change efforts in our world is that her quest involves fighting screen-filling boss monsters called “Anomalies.”

This is the heart of Solar Ash and where it takes clear inspiration from Shadow of the Colossus. Maybe too clear, honestly. There’s a bird-like Anomaly that soars above the map, a sword-wielding Anomaly that drags its skyscraper-sized blade along the ground, and a serpent Anomaly that flies just above your head. All of this will be familiar for fans of Team Ico’s melancholic boss rush, but Solar Ash trades in that game’s challenging sense of clumsily climbing up a living, hostile creature in favor of fights that feel like playing a 3D Sonic level on a monster the size of a city block.

Each is covered in black ooze that will become lava-hot after a short amount of time. To delay that moment, you need to skate across the beast, slashing at flashing pin markers as you go, which will create more pins down the line, which you must hit in time, and so on. Each boss takes three hits to go down and, while these battles aren’t nearly as difficult as any of the boss fights in Hyper Light Drifter, they will push you to learn the patterns and get a solid handle on the controls. That can be frustrating at first. It sucks to fail repeatedly and feel unsure about how to improve. But the exhilarating sense of speed, and the cinematic grandeur of your actions playing out atop a creature that towers over the world below–a world that you just explored thoroughly in order to reach this moment–is impressive.

The process of puzzle-solving in that lower world similarly pushes you to learn and put to use a firm understanding of the space. Before you can fight each Anomaly, you need to take out multiple oozy eyes scattered around the world below. These platforming puzzles require the same kind of timing as the boss fights: You hit a pin to start the trial, then must make it through the obstacles before time runs out. The solution isn’t always obvious, and figuring out how to use the tools at your disposal in concert with the specific mechanics of each level makes these puzzles consistently satisfying to solve.

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In one level, for example, the ground is covered in acidic slime. Once you touch it, a green meter appears on screen. You have until it turns red to reach dry land, and must wait for the meter to disappear before entering the slime again. A subsequent level ups the ante with instakill magma. These aren’t new mechanics–games have been doing “the floor is lava” since practically the dawn of the medium–but, implemented here it makes for compelling puzzles that ask the player to constantly think about the construction of the space they’re inhabiting in order to successfully navigate it.

There’s a reason this space is so dreamily built–Solar Ash takes place inside a massive black hole, after all–but the game is at its best when it isn’t treating those reasons as if they matter all that much. The late game leans a little too heavily into the story, including swapping out the strong boss battles in favor of a binary choice in the game’s climactic moments. But, most of the time, that story is where it belongs: in the background. And, thankfully, Solar Ash has some gorgeous backgrounds.

Big Brain Academy: Brain Vs. Brain Review

In the heyday of the DS and 3DS, Nintendo dedicated itself to a “blue ocean” strategy of attracting a wider audience than traditional gamers. Headlining this effort were games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy, puzzle games targeted toward non-gamers that promised regular mental exercises to stay sharp and enhance your focus. More than a decade later, Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain recenters itself around Nintendo’s new strategic priority: social features and competition. And while the puzzles in Brain vs. Brain work just as well as ever, the competition aspect is an awkward fit that runs counter to a game series that has always been friendly and non-judgmental.

The main appeal of these brain-training games has always been to run your own race. Chipping away at daily exercises with Big Brain Academy’s fictional Dr. Lobe lets you see the progression of slow, steady improvement as you sharpen your mental acuity. In previous games, over the course of a week or a month or even several months, the improvement would get more consistent and you could see yourself getting smarter, or at least better at these particular gamified skills. Brain vs. Brain is centered around competition, and feels a little less approachable for it.

That’s not to say the game itself shames you. Dr. Lobe is as positive and encouraging as ever, always couching weak spots in gentle terms and nudging you to spend some more time practicing any fields where you didn’t excel. But when you create a puzzle game ostensibly about measuring intelligence, and then pit a player against both friends and a worldwide gaming audience, it’s going to be fertile ground for planting self-doubt.

Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain measures your competency in five categories–Identify, Memorize, Analyze, Compute, and Visualize–each consisting of four exercises. The lines between those categories can be fuzzy. The Shadow Shift game, which has you pick out silhouetted shapes, is grouped in the Visualize category when it could easily fit into Identify, for example. Each exercise ramps up the difficulty as you complete phases of it on a timer, adding both more elements and complexities to those elements. By the time you reach the top few ranks, you may need to sit and think for several moments. Some exercises become downright inscrutable, at least in the final few seconds you have remaining on the clock.

Your single-player options are limited to Practice, an unlockable Super Practice mode that starts the exercises on a higher difficulty level, and the holistic Test function. The Test is meant to show your aptitude across all five categories by serving them up one at a time, resulting in a pentagon-shaped spider chart with sharper spikes in the fields where you excelled. The idea is to give an easy visualization of where you’re doing best and where you could stand to improve, and it does that well. When I first started I was extremely lopsided toward Memorize and away from Compute, which squared with my own understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. After some practice I made the graph roughly more symmetrical, which is ultimately the goal–to brush up on weaker spots so you’re well-balanced across the disciplines.

That said, it’s not an exact science. The Test function plucks one of each category’s exercises at random, and after practicing there were still some exercises that I just didn’t connect with very well. Even within a category I felt comfortable with, there would inevitably be an exercise I struggled with. If one of these weaker exercises happened to be the one that came up during a Test, it would throw off my entire score, and the test would be a wash. Similarly, some games are especially brutal at burning your clock, which can impact your score. The higher levels of Fast Focus, a game that slowly reveals a picture to you, take so long to reveal anything even potentially recognizable that it can be maddening watching the time tick away.

You can brush up on these skills in Practice mode by taking on one event at a time. That helped, but sometimes I would find myself frustrated by the timer suddenly pulling the plug on an exercise. Some of the more advanced exercises take more time to think through, and by the time I reached one I wouldn’t have enough time to invest in it before it abruptly ended. The Get In Shape puzzles, for instance, have you build increasingly complex shapes out of small parts, and I would have liked the opportunity to take some of the advanced puzzles at my own pace. In those moments it didn’t feel like I was really building my skills. Rather, I was just racing to give myself time to even attempt to build more advanced skills. Super Practice helps by starting you at a higher difficulty level, which also makes it easier to rack up higher scores.

The main competitive mode in the Solo menu is Ghost Clash, which pits you against ghost versions of your friends, other profiles on the same Switch, or strangers across the world. Finishing the exercise first gets you more points, and the first to 100 points wins the clash. It’s not quite a head-to-head competition, but it reproduces the basic effect well. Another method of competing with friends is checking your Ranking, which shows your Solo scores across both the Test and each individual exercise. A local Party mode lets you compete against other players, and includes some decent equalizing features such as a special “Sprout Mode” intended for younger players. Still, a lot of the games require some fundamental math skills, so very small kids would likely be lost. On the whole the in-person competitive modes seem aimed at leveling the playing field in a way that the online modes aren’t.

One odd-duck element to this is the use of touch controls versus a traditional controller. Big Brain Academy has its roots on the Nintendo DS, which came with a dedicated stylus. Brain vs. Brain maintains this element and lets you use touch controls, and in my experience that actually seems to be a big competitive advantage over a controller. But the Switch never feels totally natural as a touchscreen device, both because of its oblong shape and the fact that it doesn’t come with its own stylus. Plus, it’s just strange to have a competitive game where handheld players have such a huge competitive advantage based on the touch-based control scheme.

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Your reward across all of the single-player modes is coins, which unlock outfit options for each 10 coins you gather. Longer events like a full Test or competing across all the categories in Ghost Clash nets you more coins, but the progress is still slow-going and will take a regular playing regimen to actually unlock everything. Like the other brain-training games, this is obviously meant to be a daily habit. The outfit options aren’t all that compelling in themselves, but I did get a little smile out of seeing my avatar dressed in a deerstalker cap and fancy vest.

It’s never been totally clear to me if brain-training games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy are actually exercising your brain or simply improving your skills at these particular exercises. The takeaway of these games may be that there isn’t actually a clear distinction between getting smarter and getting experience. Most of the time I just had to remember to slow down and approach the exercises cautiously to improve my score, which feels like a lesson in patience and focus as much as the ability to compute or analyze on a dime.

Big Brain Academy, and the entire brain-training sub-genre of puzzle games, were never as medically precise as they purported to be. But they were always about the fulfillment of self-improvement, not bragging rights. Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain, thanks to its new competition hooks, feels just a little bit coarser. It’s still plenty of fun in small doses, and the exercises are well-made and for the most part ramp up nicely. Just don’t take it too seriously, and whatever the leaderboards say, remember to run your own race.

Halo Infinite Multiplayer Review In Progress – I Need A Weapon

I could spend all day talking about what makes Halo Infinite great but not necessarily superb, but, when you’re in the thick of it, the faults that create that distinction are hard to notice because it’s just really fun. While playing, I found myself giggling with murderous glee after successfully wiping an enemy team all on my own; laughing as I nonchalantly chucked a fusion coil and accidentally splattered an unseen player; and roaring support for an ally as they successfully held the line long enough for our team to secure an objective and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The experience of playing Halo Infinite is joyful, and what more can you ask for when it comes to a free-to-play online multiplayer shooter?

But, to reiterate, Halo Infinite isn’t without its flaws. Most notably, its challenge-based progression system feels unrewarding and keeps the game’s coolest-looking cosmetics locked behind dozens of hours of an unfulfilling grind. But 343 Industries has stuck the landing on what matters the most, as Halo Infinite feels good. Firearms shoot with a nice punch, and your Spartan’s movements are smooth. And although not every map at launch feels like they’re going down in Halo’s hall of fame as all-time favorites, there’s a welcome variety to them, allowing the seven currently available game types to play out in wildly different ways depending on which map you’re playing on.

Similar to Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, the narrative basis for Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is a Spartan training program. With both Master Chief and the UNSC Infinity marked as missing in action, and the threat of Cortana still at large, Spartan Commander Agryna leaves you behind at a secure facility that’s tasked with training the next generation of Spartan IVs. It’s up to you to work hard and grow stronger in preparation for the coming fight.

The multiplayer feels like old-school Halo, but tweaked to better fit the modern FPS playerbase that has fallen in love with shooters that accentuate their solid gunplay with smooth movement and quick-to-deploy abilities. Halo Infinite leans into the traditional rhythm of the series’ firefights–it’s a dance that will feel familiar to long-time fans, but it also now feels wholly unique in today’s shooter climate with the longer time-to-kill rate. Though fights can be ended quickly with the right weapon (or just having vastly superior numbers), most don’t on account of each Spartan’s rechargeable shield, which divides combat into two distinct parts. While shielded, you can take more risks and utilize weapons that take longer to have an immediate payoff (like the Plasma Pistol, which can be charged to fire a more powerful shot), but when that shield is gone, you’re vulnerable and the need to take more evasive maneuvers (or pull out a faster-hitting weapon, like the fully automatic MA40 Assault Rifle, to outpace your opponent’s shots) increases. If you can last long enough, your shield will recharge, reverting you back to the first phase.

As all players are tied to these constraints, fights are typically less about what weapon you have and more about how you choose to use it. A charged Plasma Pistol shot will decimate an opponent’s shields faster than the MA40, but if a player with the MA40 can move side to side fast enough and avoid the loose lock-on of the Plasma Pistol, they can land enough hits to break that shield first, and the MA40 tears through unshielded targets significantly faster. Halo has consistently been a game of skill that rewards players for fighting intelligently and knowing how to best defeat an opponent, and Halo Infinite sticks to that trend.

Equipment compliments the gunplay, with every piece of equipment being useful in some way, and most being useful in different ways from mode to mode. For example, Repulsor, which sends out a shockwave to knock back everything in front of you, is great for flinging vehicles off cliffs in Big Team Battle, but can also save your life from a surprise grenade in Ranked Arena. Brief cooldowns, limited uses, and the need to collect them keeps each piece of equipment from being incessantly spammed, ensuring skilled use of firearms remains the key component to Halo’s in-match meta.

Halo Infinite’s movement mechanics pair well with the game’s firearms and equipment, encouraging fast and aggressive play. The ability to slide after sprinting is especially noteworthy, as you go just far enough and just fast enough to quickly turn tight corners for both offense or defense. It feels as essential to combat as strafing or jumping when it comes to avoiding shots, and correctly timing a jump to go into a lengthy slide to swing around a corner and surprise your opponent by shooting them from a lower angle than they were expecting is fulfilling.

Of the new-school shooter mechanics that make their way into Halo Infinite, the ping system is the only one to really fall short. Halo’s core formula wasn’t built with a ping system in mind, and Halo Infinite isn’t restructured to address that fact. The ping itself isn’t very informative–though it thankfully does tell squadmates how many enemies are at a location, it doesn’t provide context when pinging a place on the map. That can make it tricky to discern whether a teammate is saying to go to a spot, defend a spot, or attack a spot. Putting the ping on the D-pad on a controller also makes it hard to use the mechanic in the midst of a fight. Given how many objective-based modes are in Halo Infinite, a ping system is a smart idea for helping teams coordinate their efforts. However, the existing system isn’t all that helpful or easy to use, and since so few people use it, players aren’t conditioned to take heed of it and largely ignore it when their allies do happen to use it.

When you’re ready to fight, there are four available playlists in Halo Infinite’s multiplayer. Bot Bootcamp hosts an assortment of 4v4 modes, but set in a PvE setting, allowing new faces to test and improve their skills prior to diving into online matchmaking. Quick Play and Big Team Battle are Halo Infinite’s two casual online multiplayer playlists–the first includes the game’s assortment of 4v4 game types, while the second is 12v12. And finally, Ranked Arena presents competitive variations of what’s found in Bot Bootcamp and Quick Play, pushing you to go up against similarly skilled players in attempts to rise in rank.

As Halo Infinite’s multiplayer has launched in open beta, not all modes are live in the game. Elimination, for example, is absent. At launch, Halo Infinite has seven modes: Total Control, Stockpile, Oddball, Strongholds, Capture the Flag, One Flag CTF, and Slayer. Save for Slayer, all of the modes in Halo Infinite are objective-based, where securing the most kills isn’t the goal for winning the game.

The challenge of how to achieve these objectives adjusts to which map you’re playing on, which is dependent on which playlist you’re queuing into. Bot Bootcamp, Quick Play, and Ranked Arena feature smaller maps, most of which incorporate twisting corridors that prioritize remaining hyper aware of your immediate surroundings and staying ready to pop off in intense firefights. Big Team Battle takes place on significantly larger maps, all of which encourage smart player rotation–being a good shot is still important, but knowing how to most efficiently get from point A to point B is even more critical, as you can be spawned a long sprint away from the objective that needs you.

It’s an altogether solid library of maps. There are a few that make me groan in exasperation whenever they pop up–notably Highpower because of how unfairly overpowered the Wasp is on that map and Behemoth because its wide-open layout and inclusion of vehicles isn’t a great fit for the 4v4 playlists. Overall though, Halo Infinite has kicked off with a welcome diversity of fun arenas. Bazaar and Recharge are my two favorites, featuring prominent open middle spaces for those brave enough for a hectic shootout, while the outer rims of both maps encompass multiple levels of hallways and rooms for those looking for a longer but typically safer trip around the map. Fragmentation is also really fun–you can’t go wrong with a Halo map that’s two bases sitting across from one another in a long canyon.

Recharge is an excellent map--it's one of my favorites for Ranked Arena.
Recharge is an excellent map–it’s one of my favorites for Ranked Arena.

Halo Infinite also builds on the series’ collection of firearms, adding an assortment of new guns to obliterate, melt, zap, and crush your enemies to death. The core conceit remains unchanged: Alien weapons vaporize Spartan shields while human firearms tear through the unprotected fleshy bits. But there are a few more enjoyable considerations to keep in mind this time around. For instance, the Shock Rifle can disintegrate a target with a headshot, but sending a beam into a Spartan’s chest can cause the electricity-based shots to arc to additional targets, damaging nearby enemies. The weapon’s shots can disrupt vehicles too, stalling Warthogs or causing Banshees to fall from the sky. Most of Halo Infinite’s new weapons are similarly designed, featuring secondary effects or fire modes that, when strategically used, lead to satisfying results.

Fan favorites like the Energy Sword and M41 SPNKR return, rounding out a total roster of 20 firearms, two melee weapons, and four grenade types. The sound design for these weapons is superb–even if you can’t see an enemy, you can immediately identify what weapon they’re using based on the sound it’s making. The shots fired from each gun and the appearance of each grenade are also visually distinct (less so for the human weapons), which helps you identify what you’re up against in case a louder sound is masking the trademark noises of your foe’s weapon.

This all helps ensure the outcomes of firefights lean towards skill as opposed to luck. In the few seconds that a fight lasts, visual and auditory cues can tune you into what your foe is using against you, informing how you can respond to beat them. It wouldn’t be a Halo game without luck (or hilarious misfortune) also playing a part, and that’s present too. I’ve had a fight where I won, breathed a sigh of relief, and then a destroyed Wasp fell out of the sky and crushed me. These sorts of deaths of comedic misfortune aren’t what you’ll usually endure though, and for the most part, the better player (or just the player who better knew how to use the environment to turn the tables to their advantage) will come out on top.

There are vaults with excellent loot on Fragmentation, but you'll need to hold off enemy squads while your personal AI hacks open the door.
There are vaults with excellent loot on Fragmentation, but you’ll need to hold off enemy squads while your personal AI hacks open the door.

But again, save for Slayer, getting kills isn’t usually the most important goal for a game. And even if Slayer is all you want, you’re currently out of luck. There are no game type-specific playlists in Halo Infinite at launch. Instead, 343 Industries has chucked Halo Infinite’s assortment of modes and maps into each of its four multiplayer playlists and you’re randomly thrown into one mode depending on which playlist you pick. So, for example, going into Quick Play might put you into Slayer on Bazaar, and then into One Flag CTF on Launch Site in the next match. Beyond going into Custom Games and making your own playlist, there’s currently no way to curate what you specifically want to look for beyond whether you want to play 4v4, 12v12, or 4v4 ranked.

I can certainly see the appeal of it. Without this format, I doubt my friends and I would have regularly played or even tried many modes beyond Slayer. But as it happens, we’ve come to really like Infinite’s Oddball, Capture the Flag, One Flag CTF, Total Control, and Strongholds modes. This current playlist format ensures that every player gets a healthy dose of every mode. If you’ve never touched Halo in your life, Infinite is a continuous sample platter to give you a taste of what’s on offer, helping you find new favorites to enjoy.

There is a downside to this though. You’ll notice I didn’t mention that my friends and I fell in love with Stockpile. That’s because we don’t like Stockpile. We don’t want to keep playing Stockpile. Lugging each battery across the map is slow, stalling combat as players carry a battery a few feet, toss it forward, and die. And then the next player on the team repeats the process to move the battery a little further. It’s essentially a much slower variation of Capture the Flag, and with teams needing to capture five batteries to win a round, it can feel like matches are going on for way too long. Halo Infinite is just a better game when players are running around and shooting, not slowly walking around with glowing batteries and being shot to death in seconds. But there’s no option to filter out Stockpile. We could just stick to Bot Bootcamp, Quick Play, and Ranked Arena, but that’s not a constructive solution, as we still want to play Big Team Battle’s other exclusive mode, Total Control. Ultimately, there’s no real way around it–Halo Infinite’s lack of playlist curation means that you’ll occasionally be put into modes that you may not want to play, which can be frustrating, especially if you don’t have too much time in your schedule and just want to play what you want to play. A sample platter is a great starter for an evening, but at some point you just want to call over the waiter to put in an order for your favorite meal.

Sometimes I don't want to play Capture the Flag. Sometimes I just want to play Slayer.Sometimes I don't want to play Capture the Flag. Sometimes I just want to play Slayer.
Sometimes I don’t want to play Capture the Flag. Sometimes I just want to play Slayer.

It really doesn’t help that in-game progression is also entirely tied to completing daily and weekly challenges, and several weekly challenges are tied to playing specific modes. For example, completing challenges to kill an enemy flag carrier can only be done if you’re put into Capture the Flag or One Flag CTF. So you can queue into Quick Play in hopes of getting a match in either mode, but you might be put into numerous Slayer and Oddball matches first.

Since there’s no guarantee you’ll be in a position to kill someone who steals your flag (save for camping the flag’s spawn point), or that your team’s flag will even be stolen, you may wind up having to queue again and once again wait to be put into the mode you need to play in order to progress in the battle pass. It’s very frustrating, especially if the matches you’re playing in the meantime aren’t doing much towards your in-game progression. 343 Industries has at least added a repeatable daily challenge where completing a match earns you some XP, so no match is a total wash. But given that that daily challenge only nets you 50XP each time you complete it and you need 1000XP to level up in the battle pass, progression is still largely tied to weekly challenges where rewards range from 200-400XP.

So, as fun as Halo Infinite is to play–and, admittedly, doing well can be its own reward, especially if you have friends to hype you up after a great match–skillfully playing objectives and just being a good teammate isn’t rewarded through the progression system. Though the potentially grander implications of this aren’t suitable for a review (there’s no way to tell if weekly challenges will ultimately influence players to play more selfishly and pursue their own progression over ensuring victory), the immediate consequences are worth discussing. As it stands, it’s incredibly tedious to earn anything in Halo Infinite, short of dropping real-world money and buying battle pass levels or cosmetics from the in-game store–not an especially compelling solution.

Despite these issues, however, I keep coming back to the fact that Halo Infinite is just fun to play, with or without those rewards. Halo Infinite’s online multiplayer takes everything that is good about Halo and amplifies it with the faster pacing and abilities of more modern-day shooters. Not every new mechanic and feature fits Halo’s established formula–the ping system isn’t very good, and tying all in-game progression to daily and weekly challenges leads to an unrewarding system. But the sound design is spot on, the maps are good, weapons hit with a gratifying kinetic energy, and the game rewards skill. Even if it’s still in open beta, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is already a great free-to-play shooter.

Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One Review – Murder In The Mediterranean

The cobblestone streets of Victorian London are as synonymous with Sherlock Holmes as his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson, particularly as they pertain to developer Frogwares’ long-running game series. The Ukrainian studio’s latest entry, Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One, ditches both the dreary, smog-filled setting, and the good doctor, by presenting an origin story for the titular sleuth. It’s a bold move that unshackles Chapter One from many of the familiar conventions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, allowing for some surprising and frankly absurd moments as you try to uncover the truth behind Sherlock’s troubled childhood.

The fictional Mediterranean island of Cordona provides the new sun-swept backdrop for Sherlock’s not-so-humble beginnings as a near-superpowered detective. The Londoner has returned to his idyllic childhood home to visit his mother’s grave, but he soon learns that there may have been more to her death than he was initially told. This sets in motion a sprawling mystery that covers the breadth of the picturesque island, albeit one that struggles to latch on and retain your investment. The plethora of cases you’re asked to investigate along the way are oftentimes fantastic and suitably intriguing–from solving a murder involving a rampaging elephant, to infiltrating a high society sex cult–but the central focus of uncovering what exactly happened to Sherlock’s mother lacks the same captivation.

This is mostly due to the fact you’re only privy to brief glimpses of Mrs. Holmes, resulting in her feeling less like a character and more like a contrived plot device. This makes it difficult to care about the details of her tragic fate either way, especially when there are more interesting story threads surrounding it. As a way to inform Sherlock’s character development, the central mystery also falters in this regard, too. The young 20-something Sherlock is presented as a novice, yet his supernatural powers of deduction are still in full force from the very outset. He can surmise a character’s entire backstory by glancing at the threads on their clothes or the bags under their eyes, so you never get the feeling that he’s coming into his own and finding what works when he already begins the game as a fully formed super detective. He might not always be as aloof or refined as older incarnations of the character, but Chapter One never gives the impression that Sherlock was significantly different in his younger years, or that the events of the game informed his future self in any way–aside from what occurs in the final few scenes.

The addition of a different sidekick does add a new wrinkle that explores Sherlock’s tormented psyche. Before John Watson came along, Sherlock had Jon, his imaginary friend. The pair have been constant companions since Sherlock’s father died when he was a child, and he serves a similar role to Watson, acting as a sounding board, confidant, and moral compass, while also assisting on cases. Unlike Watson, however, Jon is a bit of a cheeky chap who’s prone to moments of mischief. He affectionately calls Sherlock “Sherry,” and their fraternal relationship adds a lighter touch to the frequently dark subject matter.

Cordona is a detective’s paradise after all, chock full of murders, robberies, tantalizing conspiracies, and other heinous crimes. The Sherlock series has featured fairly large areas in the past, but Chapter One follows in the footsteps of Frogwares’ 2019 game, The Sinking City, by giving you an entire open world to explore. It shares more in common with LA Noire than Grand Theft Auto, essentially acting as an elaborate stage for various cases, but the open world adds another element of investigation to your skillset without being overbearing. Unfortunately, traversing the city streets is obnoxious due to the stuttering framerate on PS5. This isn’t an issue when inside or in smaller areas, but it does make navigating the world an unpleasant chore.

It’s a shame, too, because Cordona is also a character in and of itself. Chapter One is set in the late 1800s, so the island has predictably been colonized by the British empire. There’s tension between the inhabitants as a result, and the stark contrast between different cultures and classes is woven into the island’s five distinct districts. The British live in affluent neighborhoods where the streets are lined with opulent mansions and adorned with the Union Jack, while the local population’s melting pot of residents are crammed into claustrophobic shacks, selling wares in busy markets and working for the Brits in dangerous mines and factories.

It’s disappointing that this aspect of Cordona isn’t touched on more often in the game’s actual story, but perhaps this is for the best as Chapter One regularly stumbles whenever it attempts to tackle more nuanced topics.

It’s disappointing that this aspect of Cordona isn’t touched on more often in the game’s actual story, but perhaps this is for the best as Chapter One regularly stumbles whenever it attempts to tackle more nuanced topics. One of the early cases, for instance, features a trans man who Sherlock frequently misgenders, even when calling him by his chosen name. This feels unnecessary since it has no bearing on the actual case, yet Sherlock is also painted as a good guy for not revealing that the character is trans to anyone else, almost like Frogwares is patting itself on the back for doing the right thing in a situation it, itself, created. Another case uses sexual assault as a mere plot point in order to prompt a tough moral decision, and searching the city for an African refugee camp has you asking for information from the first Black NPC you can find. There are also some lazy caricatures, and Sherlock has a habit of doing dodgy accents when in disguise. None of this comes off as overtly malicious, but it’s evident of how Chapter One–though Frogware’s best-written game to date–is very, very dumb at times.

Like previous games in the series, Chapter One excels when you delve into the nitty-gritty of solving crimes. Sherlock’s deductive repertoire gives you a variety of ways to find the truth, and there’s very little hand-holding along the way. Surveying crime scenes is the simplest of the bunch as you gather and interact with different clues, from a blood-stained knife to an eye-opening letter. Sherlock’s Concentration ability is akin to “detective vision” seen in games like the Batman: Arkham series, allowing you to uncover details other people would miss, although this is most often used to tediously track footprints. You’re usually asked to recreate what transpired by positioning mannequins in Sherlock’s mind, much like how similar mysteries were solved in Return of the Obra Dinn. Sherlock’s case files nudge you in the right direction with character descriptions and detailed lists of all the evidence you’ve gathered so far, and you can use the Mind Palace to link different clues together until you have a clearer picture of what exactly happened.

You’ll also interrogate suspects, eavesdrop on conversations to filter out valuable keywords from otherwise irrelevant chatter, head to newspaper and police archives to track down people of interest, and don various disguises to infiltrate specific areas and talk to certain people. There’s no use in trying to get anything out of the intoxicated patrons at the Drinking Dutchman without dressing like a sailor first.

The lack of hand-holding makes it easy to feel like you’re arriving at your own deductions and unraveling every part of the case yourself. It’s incredibly satisfying, and Chapter One does a good job of ensuring each case maintains its forward momentum. There’s always a useful text description in your case files if you ever get stuck, and the red symbols attached to clues let you know when there’s more to glean from a particular piece of evidence without giving away too many specifics. It’s not always the most intuitive, since you’ll likely spend a considerable amount of time going back into Sherlock’s case files or checking out the “How to play” section to recall what certain symbols mean. Some clues also refuse to appear unless you pin them first, essentially marking them as your current objective, which feels like a superfluous extra step. Jon would’ve come in handy in these instances as a natural hint system, but the notes in his diary just berate you for getting it wrong without offering any solutions.

Jon will also write mean things about you if you kill anyone. Unlike Sherlock Holmes and the Devil’s Daughter, which featured a scattershot of mediocre action sequences, Chapter One only features the one, as you’re occasionally locked into a small area and forced to fight off waves of enemies. Sherlock is equipped with a single pistol, and each combat arena is filled with identical environmental hazards like steam pipes and lanterns. You can simply kill everyone or use the environment to stun and subdue enemies after a brief QTE knockdown.

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You’re rewarded with a miniscule lump of extra cash if you arrest criminals rather than murder them–and Jon won’t admonish you in his diary–but this is hardly an incentive to engage in the formulaic act of restraining enemies. The only things you can purchase with the money you earn are furnishings for Sherlock’s home and new disguises, but you can rent the latter for free so money isn’t really necessary. Killing everyone in sight doesn’t make the combat any less monotonous, but at least it’s over much quicker. You can also turn combat off completely if you’d rather not engage with it.

Despite these issues, it’s difficult not to get sucked into Chapter One’s web of intrigue. The central mystery is uneventful until its final moments, but the cases surrounding it are consistently excellent, and the role you play in solving them is incredibly gratifying. The open world is more of a backdrop than anything else, but it expands the game with dozens of side cases that are just as alluring as those found in the main story. Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One may stumble at times, but it scratches that investigative itch like few games even attempt to.

Grand Theft Auto The Trilogy: Definitive Edition Review – Wasted

There is a strong argument to be made that Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas are the three most influential games of the 21st century. You can see their DNA floating around just about every open-world title made since and pretty much anyone making in-engine cutscenes owes a debt to Rockstar going fully Hollywood early on. There is an entire generation whose only exposure to various genres of music come from the soundtracks of these three games. Naturally, parts of them have aged better than others, but in the context of the early-to-mid 2000s, these games broke serious ground.

These are all facts set in stone by this point, of course. But it’s worth seeing it all written down one more time so it’s abundantly clear just how utterly bewildering it is that Rockstar let GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas get as absolutely mangled as they have been with these so-called Definitive Editions. Somehow, the studio that was so meticulous about making sure the poop leaving the back end of a horse was as lovingly rendered as a cowboy’s sickly, grizzled face has approved a remaster bearing its name that turns its most iconic games into app store shovelware.

That isn’t hyperbole, either. Having played virtually every major version of these games in some form over the years, it’s glaringly obvious these remasters were built on the bones of the already-disfigured mobile ports of each game. As weak as those were, there were certain things you can forgive just by nature of the platform. Rampant bugs, stripped-down animations, frame rate instability? These are the prices you pay for portability. Those excuses vanish into thin air with the Definitive Editions having all the horsepower of current-gen consoles and PCs to utilize. Now, all the problems of the mobile ports have been blown up to 4K resolution. Now, the neglect feels less like a bug and more like a feature.

It’s worth pointing out that all three games do have a few welcome quality-of-life improvements. Load times are virtually gone and GTA III finally has a large-scale map in the menus. All three games get not just autosaves, but checkpoints, allowing you to retry failed missions without a trip to the hospital. GTA V’s weapon wheel has been grafted onto all three games, along with its control scheme, which is probably the greatest blessing here. The original PS2/Xbox versions of these games are all pretty draconian when it comes to current standards, and even the otherwise excellent original PC ports had problems with controller mapping feeling graceful, no matter how many times you tinker. Bringing the games up to modern standards makes jumping right in and going to work so much easier. Definitive or not, if these releases simply featured these little refinements and a 4K bump in resolution, they’d still come across as dated, but appreciable and largely faithful to the original experience. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Like most remasters, Rockstar–by way of developer Grove Street Games–has also updated the visuals using modern tools of the trade. On paper, Rockstar did everything right. The resolution has been raised to 4K, jaggies have been smoothed over, characters and NPCs have been given new or updated facial models, a dynamic lighting system has been added, foliage has been completely redone, better reflections have been introduced. These are all positives–on paper. In execution, however, it’s essentially plastic surgery with a chainsaw. All of these improvements have been thrown at these games, at the expense of demolishing the original mood, or the humanity of these characters, or the personality of the massive cities they inhabit. These remasters are a crash course in the importance of art direction.

The greatest disservice done to the trilogy has to do with characters’ faces. To be fair, none of the previous versions of the game were exactly The Last of Us when it comes to expressive or photorealistic faces, but even on the lowly PS2, they were faces with character. You can get the gist of Tommy Vercetti as a middle-aged ex-con sent to Vice City as an afterthought, and the ever-growing frustration on his face the longer he spends time there. It’s a face with five o’clock shadow and extremely New Yawk eyebrows, suitable for Ray Liotta’s still-incredible voice performance. The Tommy Vercetti of the Definitive Edition is a glassy-eyed cartoon, a featureless face with a pompadour–a no-frills Fortnite character. The same mostly goes for GTA III’s new, eerie, fetus-faced Claude. CJ in San Andreas fares best, but that averages out with an initial body that looks like the Slender Man. That also goes for the rest of the NPCs, ranging from Saturday morning cartoon caricatures like Officer Tenpenny and Ryder–somewhere, Eazy-E is rolling in his grave–to featureless, amorphous horrors like the now disgustingly lumpy Big Smoke and Kendl. Somehow, these are characters meant to carry hours’ worth of story, and their only saving grace is that the lighting system has been so haphazardly implemented, so calamitous to the cinematic feeling of the original games, that even the sun at high noon can’t light Black characters properly enough to get clear looks at their faces.

Most of the environmental improvements follow that same ethos of features implemented, but not thoughtfully. There are scattered parts of each game that manage to be reasonably impressive–the inside of Diaz’s mansion, Ken Rosenberg’s office, Bedford Point in GTA III, and the forests of San Andreas, to name a few–but with the additional graphical horsepower at the game’s disposal, the new visuals fail at being evocative. Everything still feels like broad, flat polygons with higher resolution assets plastered over them. These Definitive Editions are actually missing things compared to previous versions, too. The ports on the original Xbox did the work of reanimating hands so everyone doesn’t look like they’re holding giant immovable donuts. The old PC ports gave players their own personal stereo to bump their own tunes through the in-game radio. The original ports also had co-op Rampage modes. None of these have made the jump, along with about 40 songs from the radio stations, and all of that would have been welcome here. Then there are the “enhancements” that make the games demonstrably worse. Just about any text not tied to the user interface (e.g. billboards, storefront windows, street signs) seems to have been rendered by AI with no human input. The result is that any stylized text from the original versions of these games has a strong chance of not just random, distracting misspellings or orientation, but completely different and laughably oversimplified fonts. My favorite case in point is the gate leading to Chinatown in GTA III, which displays as blurry but obviously stylized cursive on PS2, but the AI responsible for reinterpreting the landscape has spat back out at as lowercase Comic Sans.

Rain, in particular, isn’t rendered with any sort of subtlety or natural progression, or opacity. It also turns on and off at random, and comes down in such battering torrents it actually renders the games virtually unplayable until it stops. Meanwhile, on the flipside, the haze and fog that made driving through San Andreas at night such a cool, creepy experience has been completely removed.

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The icing on top is the game being riddled with just good old-fashioned bugs. Some of these, in fairness, were present in the original games–moments of wacky vehicle physics, characters able to clip through walls or getting stuck on random objects–though it’s not out-of-pocket to wonder why the opportunity wasn’t taken to correct them if you’re aiming for “definitive.” Some of the bugs, however, are brand-spanking-new exclusives to these versions, like vanishing cars, empty/unfinished portions of the maps, cops who don’t react to their cars being hit, and minigames rendered utterly broken thanks to the fact that the games are built on top of the simplified touchscreen-reliant mobile versions.Are these Definitive Editions unplayable? Unless it’s raining, no. All three games still have their merits. Even GTA III, which has increasingly looked like a relic with time, has become more of an interesting missing link between the top-down chaos of the original games and the sprawling amoral crime dramas that would follow. Vice City is still every ounce the perfect marriage of Miami Vice and Scarface, and one need not look much further than the actual Scarface game we got to see just how hard it is to make these elements work in harmony. San Andreas is still the best of the bunch, arguably the best game in the series. Even while it ups the ante on how much control you have over their character’s physical development, and how much explosive chaos you can get up to, it’s one of the few games altogether to not just portray Black life, even in these broad strokes, but eventually put its protagonist in an underexplored territory of being too bougie for poor folks, and too hood to hang with the rich folks. The casual misogyny and homophobia peppered throughout, which remain unchanged here, has probably dated these games more than the gameplay.

The more important question is whether these Definitive Editions are the ideal way to experience the trilogy, and that is a resounding “Hell no.” No matter how the vaunted feature list looks, there are scant few creative decisions implemented for these ports that make themselves at all superior to the other versions released over the years. It’s hard not to think about the games that this trilogy would inspire–stuff like Mafia, Saints Row, Yakuza, Sleeping Dogs–and how well each of those series have been preserved and updated. The fact that the Godfather of open-world crime sagas has been outclassed so thoroughly in that regard is infuriating enough to push fans into a rampage. Thankfully, it’s raining outside.

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond / Shining Pearl Review-In-Progress

Even in the context of a series that regularly receives criticism for feeling formulaic, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are particularly familiar. As remakes of the fourth-gen titles Diamond and Pearl, these are homages to an era of Pokemon when the series was just starting to settle into a comfortable niche. Not only that, but these are extremely faithful remakes, right down to the visual style and classic combat mechanics. That makes the experience feel downright homey, if not a little deja vu-inducing.

Diamond and Pearl, and therefore Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, are from a simpler era of Pokemon, before full 3D became the norm. Instead, they harkened back to the series’ roots as an overhead, sprite-based RPG. There would be clear delineation between a grass “tile” and a town “tile” and you would move from one to another as if on a checkerboard. You can see some of those roots at work in the remakes too. While your character has a full range of movement in the world and the geometry isn’t terribly blocky, there are some obvious anachronisms–how NPCs always move at right angles, for example, or how floor tiles are sized to fit your character perfectly. It’s only mildly distracting and, for the most part, is just charming.

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Now Playing: Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl Video Review-In-Progress

Equally charming is the art style itself, especially in the overworld. While the more recent Sword and Shield have adopted a more lithe, elongated style that looks similar to the various Pokemon animated series, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have translated the squat pixel art of the originals into an equally squat and adorable animated chibi style. Your character looks appropriately retro while simply exploring in the tall grass or walking around town, but the style looks especially great when the camera zooms in closer during dialogue sequences. At those points, the artwork really shines because you get to see the depth and vibrancy of the characters. They look almost like living vinyl dolls.

Similarly, many of the eponymous Pokemon themselves benefit from this new art style, especially the designs that are more elegant and simple, like the pleasantly plump Starly. Some of the more complex designs suffer for it, though, since the little flourishes can look awkward. That’s a problem when you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time looking at a Monferno’s red-outlined butt, but otherwise isn’t too distracting. Your own characters and NPCs also change from their squat chibi forms into more Sword- and Shield-like models during battles, and those look perfectly fine even if they have less personality.

On top of the visual distinctions, these remakes pack some quality-of-life tweaks from later games that make it easier to go back to this generation. Borrowing a page from Sword and Shield, EXP Share is on by default and distributes experience across all the Pokemon currently in your party, which makes grinding out levels much less of a chore. Likewise, acquiring Hidden Moves provides you with permanent access to them regardless of who’s in your party, which will automatically take care of navigation tasks like breaking rocks or surfing through the water without needing to keep a dummy-Pokemon on-hand. And you can access your Pokemon boxes from anywhere, rather than needing to head back into town and check in at a Pokemon Center. You can have a Pokemon of choice follow you as well once you’ve progressed, which adds a nice sense of personality to your friendship with the little pocket monsters.

The other major addition is the Grand Underground, a revision of the original Underground mechanic that borrows some elements from more recent games. You can see Pokemon roaming freely, and some Pokemon can only be caught by exploring here, similar to the Wild Areas in Sword and Shield. The change doesn’t feel massive, but it does seem primed to add longevity to the endgame once players have fought through all the gyms and bested the Elite 4.

So far, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl keep enough classic elements to feel like a comfy nostalgia trip, while smoothing over enough of the rough edges that they feel relatively contemporary with other recent Pokemon games. It can’t be easy for a storied franchise to pay homage to its legacy while also modernizing in this way, but in my experience so far, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl strike the right balance.

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond / Shining Pearl Review

Even in the context of a series that regularly receives criticism for feeling formulaic, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are particularly familiar. As remakes of the fourth-gen titles Diamond and Pearl, these are homages to an era of Pokemon when the series was just starting to settle into a comfortable niche. Not only that, but these are extremely faithful remakes, right down to the visual style and classic combat mechanics. That makes the experience feel downright homey, if not a little deja vu-inducing.

Even those who haven’t spent the last few decades repeatedly catching “em” all know the gist by now. You’re a plucky kid who goes on a grand cross-country adventure training pocket monsters and ultimately becoming world champion. It’s recognizable in the same way that you basically already know that Mario is going to have to save the princess, and has a certain level of simplistic appeal.

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Now Playing: Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl Video Review-In-Progress

That same brand of simplicity is present in the mechanical underpinnings. Diamond and Pearl hailed from a simpler era of Pokemon, before full 3D became the norm. Instead, they harkened back to the series’ roots as an overhead, sprite-based RPG. There would be clear delineation between a grass “tile” and a town “tile” and you would move from one to another as if on a checkerboard. You can see some of those roots at work in the Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl remakes too. While your character has a full range of movement in the world and the geometry isn’t terribly blocky, there are some obvious anachronisms–how NPCs always move at right angles, for example, or how floor tiles are sized to fit your character perfectly. It’s only mildly distracting and, for the most part, is just charming.

Equally charming is the art style itself, especially in the overworld. While the more recent Sword and Shield have adopted a more lithe, elongated style that looks similar to the various Pokemon animated series, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have translated the squat pixel art of the originals into an equally squat and adorable animated chibi style. Your character looks appropriately retro while simply exploring in the tall grass or walking around town, but the style looks especially great when the camera zooms in closer during dialogue sequences. At those points, the artwork really shines because you get to see the contours and vibrancy of the characters. They look almost like living vinyl dolls.

Similarly, many of the eponymous Pokemon themselves benefit from this new art style, especially the designs that are more elegant and simple, like the pleasantly plump Starly. Some of the more complex designs suffer for it, though, since the little flourishes can look awkward. That’s a problem when you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time looking at a Monferno’s red-outlined butt, but otherwise isn’t too distracting. Your own characters and NPCs also change from their squat chibi forms into more Sword- and Shield-like models during battles, and those look perfectly fine even if they have less personality.

On top of the visual distinctions, these remakes pack some quality-of-life tweaks from later games that make it easier to go back to this generation. Borrowing a page from Sword and Shield, EXP Share is on by default and distributes experience across all the Pokemon currently in your party, which makes grinding out levels much less of a chore. Likewise, acquiring Hidden Moves provides you with permanent access to them regardless of who’s in your party, which will automatically take care of navigation tasks like breaking rocks or surfing through the water without needing to keep a dummy-Pokemon on-hand. And you can access your Pokemon boxes from anywhere, rather than needing to head back into town and check in at a Pokemon Center. You can have a Pokemon of choice follow you as well once you’ve progressed, which adds a nice sense of personality to your friendship with the little pocket monsters.

The other major addition is the Grand Underground, a revision of the original Underground mechanic that borrows some elements from more recent games. You can see Pokemon roaming freely, and some Pokemon can only be caught by exploring here, similar to the Wild Areas in Sword and Shield. The change doesn’t feel massive, but it does seem primed to add longevity to the endgame once players have fought through all the gyms and bested the Elite 4.

For all of its adherence to the tried-and-tried Pokemon formula, Diamond and Pearl and their remakes are notable for breaking from the format, though only slightly. There’s significantly more story quests that take place between gyms, especially the back half, that prolong the adventure and help break up the pacing. Some Pokemon games can feel repetitive as you simply rush from gym to gym, so this is a welcome change. Plus, unlike most Pokemon games, you’ll actually wrap up the main story revolving around a mysterious legendary Pokemon before you ever reach the eighth gym. And it will never stop being funny that a 10-year-old just walks into a sports competition flanked by a Pokemon space-time god because of this.

While the main adventure is mostly smooth sailing, there is a surprising difficulty spike when you reach the Elite Four and Pokemon Champion, the final challenges representing the end of the main quest. This five-battle gauntlet is meant to be the most challenging in the game, but it ramps up to such a higher degree than anything else in the game that it can make for a rude awakening. The rest of the game also generally keeps pace with your levels without too much grinding, especially with the advent of the EXP Share, but for this final challenge you’ll probably need to spend a significant amount of time grinding to get your party up to snuff. There’s a reason this game’s champion, and especially the final Pokemon, has a reputation as one of the toughest in the series.

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl keep enough classic elements to feel like a comfy nostalgia trip, while smoothing over enough of the rough edges that they feel relatively contemporary with other recent Pokemon games. It can’t be easy for a storied franchise to pay homage to its legacy while also modernizing in this way, but Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl strike the right balance. It’s the classic Pokemon you remember, without most of the little annoyances you’ve forgotten.

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Inscryption Review – House of Cards

November 15, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Inscryption is an outstanding deck-building card game–until it isn’t. At around the halfway mark, the compelling, run-based structure of its core card battles and the intriguingly sinister atmosphere both transform into less interesting versions of themselves. In a sense, Inscryption falls victim to its own hype. So strong are its opening moves that you can’t shake the disappointment that much of what follows is merely quite good.

The basics don’t change. Throughout, Inscryption pits you against AI opponents in a series of card battles. Individual cards have attack and defense ratings and, often, a special ability. You play them, one at a time, into a slot on your row of the arena. Each turn, your played cards will either attack the opponent’s played cards or, if the slot opposite is empty, land a direct hit on the opponent themselves, scoring for each point of damage inflicted. Battles are resolved when you or your opponent gain a five-point advantage in damage over the other, a state typically met within a handful of minutes.

The core card combat is solid. But what sets it apart from countless other similar deck-builders is how those basic card mechanics are recontextualized across three formats. As you progress through the three distinct acts of its story, Inscryption stops each time to overhaul its card battle system. In doing so, it’s able to thoroughly explore different aspects and possible permutations of those basic mechanics. Such tweaks to the rules deliver new challenges that remain interesting, even if they’re not an improvement. While the reconfigurations of Acts 2 and 3 over the back half of the game carry plenty of merit, the first iteration you encounter in Act 1 is ultimately the best.

The rogue-lite structure of Act 1 lends itself better to the card-battling format, in particular the way its cyclical nature lets you gradually learn how to play without feeling bogged down by repetition. Each run takes place across a map of little branching paths, eventually leading to a boss, and along the way you’ll card-battle a handful of enemies and make a few choices about how to improve your deck. Die while fighting a regular enemy and you’ll get a second chance. Die while fighting a boss and the run is over, kicking you back to the start and removing the cards you’d gathered for your deck during the last run. By the time you’re skillful enough to be making it to the final boss, each run is lasting a mere 20-30 minutes. The turn-around is pretty swift and, while it can be frustrating when the luck of the draw means you didn’t get the card you wanted at a critical moment, the minimal time investment means it’s easy to shrug off failure and jump straight into a new run.

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Failure is even incentivized with the Death Card system. Die on a run and you get the chance to create a new card that draws upon the stats and abilities of some of the cards you collected along the way and becomes a permanent addition to your deck. There’s plenty of luck involved. Sometimes you simply won’t draw the cards you really want and your Death Card for that run turns out pretty useless. But on occasion, when luck is shining, you’ll end up crafting something ridiculously overpowered. Regardless, the suspense is always there to discover what new card you can create, and if it turns out to be a good one, excitement soon follows at the prospect of drawing it on your next run.

The branching structure of a run presents meaningful choices, too. Between fights, if you take the left path, you might be able to draw a new card from your deck, but if you take the right path, you might instead be able to add an ability to an existing card in your hand. One of the most interesting of these choices arrives at a campfire where you can opt to increase the attack or defense of one card, but each time you choose to draw upon the fire’s power, you run a greater risk of losing the card entirely. Other stops see you collecting boons that confer powerful bonuses to all your cards or trading for very useful one-shot items.

While there’s some luck with the exact layout of the map, you always know what’s awaiting you at each stop, informing your choices and empowering you to devise a strategy for each run. It’s so satisfying to be able to decide on an objective for a run–for example, this time I’m going to stop at all the campfires and buff this one card in order to hopefully get the chance to use it for my Death Card at the end of this run–and then execute it as intended, and with the mercy of RNG. The format and structure of Act 1 caters to this sort of strategic thinking in a far more elegant manner than either of the following Acts.

Act 2 suffers from overloading you with too many choices and dropping the run-based structure. Instead of collecting cards from your deck over the course of a run, as in Act 1, here you find or purchase new cards between fights and are able to prepare a loadout to take into each battle. While I’m sure some players will enjoy this more traditional deck-building aspect and embrace sorting through dozens of cards to fine-tune the perfect hand to tackle their next opponent, I found its sudden introduction overwhelming.

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Exacerbating the situation, while some cards function similarly to those found in Act 1, many new ones are introduced, and you’re left to make too many decisions about things you don’t yet understand. Paralyzed by choice, I found myself hitting the auto-sort button every time and letting the game select a loadout for me. The connection felt in Act 1, of ownership over a deck populated by cards that you’ve had a hand in crafting, disappears.

Worse, the point of a deck-builder is undercut when it doesn’t seem to matter which cards are taken into a fight. At least, I didn’t face a fight in the second act where I was wishing I had a specific type of card or felt like I had to rethink my approach and return with a different deck. I was always able to brute-force through with what I had. Individual fights still offer tactical meat, but because they stand alone, there’s little of the connective tissue that the run-based structure of Act 1 provides. The greater strategic depth, afforded by having to plan ahead to determine how to best improve your hand, is lost.

Act 3 offers the welcome return of some of the Rogue-like aspects of the first act, but repurposes them to less interesting effect. The fixed layout of the map ventures more into Souls-like territory, where you’re running back to where you died to recover the currency you dropped and repeating the same encounters along the way. There are still opportunities to improve your cards, but you’re not making the same strategic choices about growing your deck as you were in Act 1.

The prescribed encounters lend more of a puzzle feel to each battle, which stands in disappointing contrast to the tactical improvisation required to meet Act 1’s more randomized encounters. This puzzle feel also heightens the frustration of losing a battle because the RNG didn’t serve you up the powerful card you wanted. When RNG fails you in Act 1, you chalk it up to bad luck and move on to a new set of challenges. In Act 3, you’ve got to re-enter the same ring and hope luck is on your side this time; it’s infuriating when it isn’t.

Linked by a quirky meta-narrative, each act brings a stark shift in presentation. The first and third acts both adopt a diegetic framing for the card-battles, situating you in the room where the act is taking place. You’re looking down at the board from a first-person perspective, able to turn to the side to check the score or look up and see your opponent. Immediately, it raises the stakes of each encounter. An early revelation is the ability to stand up and move around the room, accompanied by the startling realization that there’s more going on here than just a mere game of cards.

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Again, it’s the first act that proves the highlight. Inside a frontier-styled wood cabin with impossibly dark shadows obscuring all but the eyes of your opponent, a door you cannot open, and shelves arranged with a gothic ephemera, it feels like you’re fighting for your life at the end of the world. It’s deeply weird and unsettling and evocative of the kind of imminent doom that encapsulates all run-based games.

Unfortunately, the following acts pale in comparison. While initially arresting, Act 2’s drastic cut to an 8-bit era RPG falls flat. Act 3 returns to the first-person perspective, but in a more generic environment. Neither captures the same creeping sense of dread that permeates Act 1, nor do they succeed in conveying the same feeling that some real weird shit is about to go down. It’s not that they’re bad, as such; it’s more that, in a clear demonstration of the power of thematic context, Act 1 sets a bar that the other acts can’t reach.

And that really is Inscryption in a nutshell. The first act is just brilliant. Not only is the core card game at its best, but it’s also where those mechanics are best served by the richly atmospheric trappings surrounding them. The following two acts admirably offer new twists on the mechanics and a different perspective on the narrative, but neither prove as satisfying as the original. Alone, Act 1 is one of the best games of the year, but everything that comes after drags it back into the pack.

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Bright Memory: Infinite Review – Finite Would Be More Appropriate

November 11, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Beginning a review with a history lesson is usually a bit of a faux pas, but in this case it’s integral to understanding what exactly Bright Memory: Infinite is. The original game–simply titled Bright Memory–gained some traction when it launched on Steam Early Access in 2019 for having flashy visuals that rivaled triple-A games in graphical fidelity, despite the fact that it was the work of a single developer. Zeng Xiancheng created Bright Memory in their spare time, and considering what a huge undertaking that is, it wasn’t too surprising when the game clocked in at around 40 minutes in length. A sequel was due to follow, but these plans were scrapped when Xiancheng opted instead to remake the original game and expand on both its gameplay and story.

That’s where Bright Memory: Infinite comes in, and it’s a vastly different game from the 2019 original. Only tangential elements like character and organization names remain; the rest may as well be an entirely new project–which can only be a good thing. Gone are the Devil May Cry-esque style ratings and blatant allusions to Dark Souls. Instead, Bright Memory: Infinite feels less like a derivative fan game and more like something entirely its own; a frenetic FPS with satisfyingly punchy combat that mixes both gunplay and melee abilities into one audacious whole. It’s still a fairly short experience with some glaring caveats, but the journey to its conclusion is more enjoyable than the original game.

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Now Playing: Bright Memory: Infinite Video Review

The reworked story revolves around a strange phenomenon occurring in the skies around the world that has scientists baffled. You play as Shelia, an agent for the Supernatural Science Research Organisation, who’s sent in to investigate. It doesn’t take long for Shelia to discover that this strange phenomenon is also connected to some mysterious history between two interconnected worlds. If this sounds like complete nonsense, it’s worth noting that the only way I know all of this is because I looked up the game’s synopsis. Trying to glean any of this information from the opaque narrative is an impossible task. Whether this is intentional or due to something being lost in translation is unclear, but it’s difficult to care about anything that’s happening either way. Thankfully, keeping track of all this sci-fi gibberish isn’t entirely necessary.

The specifics of the story will be the last thing on your mind once you start slicing and dicing your way through Bright Memory: Infinite’s enemies. The shotgun is a bit of wet squib, but the rest of Shelia’s modest arsenal is fun to use. Headshots are met with a lofty blood spurt and a satisfying slow-motion flourish, while combining Shelia’s firearms with her assortment of other abilities is a genuine treat. The Devil May Cry style ratings might be gone, but you can still use Shelia’s light blade to launch enemies into the air and then blast them out of the sky with all the gusto of Dante. The sword can also be upgraded to the point where it flings cleaving projectiles of its own with each swing, giving you the opportunity to utilize the deadly blade without having to be within touching distance. There’s still a limited range so this doesn’t negate the need to use firearms, but it does make it easier to juggle enemies once they’re suspended in midair.

The sword functions as a defensive tool as well, letting you deflect melee attacks and send projectiles right back at your foes. Time it right and you can also stun enemies and tear a big chunk out of their armor bar, leaving them open to a devastating combo. This might come from a barrage of bullets or a rapid salvo of sword strikes, but Shelia also comes equipped with a cutting-edge Exo Arm. This device can unleash an electromagnetic pulse wave that turns enemies into a pulpy mush, while its tractor beam can pull foes towards you before you send them back in serrated pieces. There’s a diminutive skill tree that adds a few more abilities to your repertoire, like a rocket-propelled punch and a powerful ground slam, so there’s some room to experiment with different combinations and dish out more damage in one fell swoop.

There’s decent enemy variety, too, as you switch between fighting futuristic super-soldiers and mythical beings wielding swords, spears, and shields. Most enemy types won’t force you to alter your strategy too much, though, with the exception of armored enemies that dampen the potency of your attacks. Using the sword’s counter will break through this armor, so it’s not the most elaborate deviation, but it does change the way you have to approach some of the adversaries you come up against.

Attempts at gameplay variety aren’t nearly as effective, however. One of Bright Memory: Infinite’s strengths is its unrelenting pace, so it’s disappointing when this comes grinding to a halt in service of a rudimentary stealth section. Armed with nothing but a blood-stained cleaver, this overly long sequence has you sneaking through a village while trying to avoid being spotted. The instant fail state for detection is bad enough, but this section is so stiflingly linear that it may as well be on-rails, while its inclusion is also misguided in the grand scheme of things. Adding some gameplay variety might work as a welcome palette cleanser in a longer game, but you can finish Bright Memory: Infinite in an hour and 20 minutes, so breaking away from its dynamic action for a tedious digression feels like a waste of its limited timeframe.

There’s a brief car chase that fares slightly better–although there’s not much to it–and boss battles introduce a sense of scale to what are otherwise close-knit fights. There’s just not a lot of strategy involved in defeating these gargantuan foes other than dodging attacks and firing back. The grey, rain-soaked environments also lack diversity–for as visually stunning as they often are–but the game’s brevity arguably works in its favor in this instance since you’re not around long enough for them to grow stale.

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Bright Memory: Infinite’s most egregious issues are unfortunately of a technical variety. These faults range from subtitles and ability descriptions still appearing in Chinese, to a game-breaking bug that completely halted my progress. After defeating the second boss roughly halfway through the game, I was booted back to the main menu with no warning. After trying to continue my save, the game would revert back to the first splash screen as though I was launching it from Steam again. Trying to choose from the chapter select didn’t work since that was now blank and closing and restarting the game application did nothing, so the only thing I could do was restart the campaign over from the beginning. It’s not clear if this is a widespread issue, and I did manage to finish the game without it happening again, but it’s obviously something that can occur unless there’s a day one patch that fixes it.

Unskippable cutscenes made replaying the first few levels more of a chore than it should’ve been, and the same remains true if you opt to replay the whole game on a higher difficulty level after completing it. There’s nothing else to do if you want to eke out some additional replayability, and Bright Memory: Infinite’s short length is certain to put some people off. It’s a fun shooter for as long as it lasts, though, offering a satisfying mix of fast-paced gunplay and dynamic action. It’s also hard not to be impressed that this came from the talents of a lone developer. Unfortunately, a dismal stealth section, unintelligible story, and some major technical issues hold it back, while its terseness does make it difficult to recommend, even at a low price point.

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Battlefield 2042 Review — Character Development

November 11, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Sometimes, everything in Battlefield 2042 just clicks. Playing the new Hazard Zone mode, my squad entered the frightfully dangerous shipping yard on Manifest, a map defined by a big port. The stacks of shipping containers lining the sides of the area can create a lethal bottleneck, and as we approached the objective ahead, we spotted another squad converging on the location as well.

As the recon fighter Mackay, I pulled out my Batman-like grapple gun and zipped up to the top of the container stack–which suddenly turned the cover-less kill zone of an alley into a perfect ambush location. One of my teammates threw down deployable cover for the group below, giving them a good spot to avoid incoming fire where none previously existed. While my squad on the ground distracted the enemies, I crawled to the edge of the container above them and started picking the enemy squad off. Another teammate deployed a scanner that let them see nearby enemies through walls, putting a stop to the last opponent before they could flank our team. Working in concert, we wiped the enemy squad in seconds, before they even knew what they were dealing with.

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Now Playing: Battlefield 2042 Video Review

Battlefield 2042 is at its most fun when it brings new ideas together with the franchise’s traditional feel. And although many of its elements work well together– there’s not always harmony between the old and the new. Battlefield 2042 distinguishes itself from past games in the franchise by offering you the opportunity to play specific “specialists”–each with their own unique abilities and gadgets–rather than choosing from broader, more generic character classes. Not all of those specialists feel like they work in every match, though. Mackay is essential on Manifest, where he can take advantage of the map’s verticality in a way other specialists can’t, but he feels close to useless on Hourglass, where half the map is flat, open desert, and the other half is a cityscape littered with massive skyscrapers. Similarly, with high takeoff points, wingsuit-sporting Sundance is highly effective on Hourglass, but not especially helpful on Renewal, where there are far fewer places to take to the air.

In our time with Battlefield 2042, there were many moments where having the right specialist for the job felt great–and a few where some characters felt useless on a particular map. It illustrates how the game can sometimes struggle as developer DICE expands it away from its underlying formula. Still, while some ideas and characters don’t necessarily feel like they jive with everything Battlefield 2042 has to offer, its steps forward add new dimensions to the game overall, and expand on what already works about the franchise’s first-person shooter battles by pushing you to play in different ways.

Specialists are the biggest addition in Battlefield 2042, representing an adjustment in the choices you make about how you’ll face off against other players. Where Battlefield previously had squads composed of players taking on different roles, like medic, assault, engineer, or recon, the specific specialists you can choose from fill those roles in 2042. So while multiple characters might be considered support or assault class specialists, each is distinct from the others. It gives Battlefield 2042 a more hero shooter feel, taking pages from games such as Overwatch or Rainbow Six Siege.

Veteran Battlefield players might chafe at the idea of hero shooter sensibilities intruding on their military sim FPS, but the addition of specialists in Battlefield 2042 is often one of its highlights. Especially when working closely with your squad, having a variety of specialists and knowing how to use them well creates a lot of situations where you can help each other out. Battlefield is generally an FPS best enjoyed with friends, utilizing communication and teamwork, and the ways that different specialists can synergize and support the group brings out the team play experience in a lot of new ways.

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What’s more, playing with different characters gives you vastly different gameplay experiences. Flying around the battlefield with a wingsuit as Sundance or zipping up to high ground as Mackay is pretty far removed from pushing toward an objective with a riot shield as Dozer, sprinting through fire to save a hurt squaddie as Falck, or setting up an ambush with a sentry turret as Boris. Because of their different abilities and uses, each specialist brings their own specific feel to Battlefield 2042, offering you a lot of different kinds of fun even in a single match.

As mentioned, the addition of specialists isn’t always perfect–a few feel out of place on certain maps. There’s also the constant shooter problem where exciting characters that earn high kill counts, like Paik with her ability to see through walls for short periods, will undoubtedly draw more use than support-leaning or more stationary characters like Falck, Angel, or Boris. But DICE has promised to add more specialists in the future, and there’s enough diversity of gameplay experience in the cast already that seeing additions and recombinations in how they work together is an exciting prospect.

While different approaches to gameplay mostly come from your choice of specialist, they’re supported through Battlefield 2042’s highly customizable gear loadouts. Your kit comes with a primary gun and a secondary sidearm, as usual, although now you’re able to use any gun with any character. You can also pack a few other tactical items, including grenades or rocket launchers. There are generic loadouts for each class, which give you items like a deployable medpack if you choose the medic kit or a vehicle repair tool if you choose the engineer kit, but you can also adjust these at any time. That means you can play Boris with a sniper rifle and an anti-aircraft missile, climb to the top of a skyscraper, and use your deployable sentry turret to protect you while you snipe enemies on the ground and helicopters in the air. Or you can grab an SMG and a respawn beacon as Mackay, using your grapple to quickly cut distance on enemies and kill them up close, before dropping a beacon on the high ground so your squad can easily follow you on an attack.

Having a broad opportunity to adjust what gear you’re carrying, even within a match, is a big plus in the quality-of-life column for Battlefield 2042. In addition to loadout customization, there’s also the new “Plus” menu system, which allows you to set several attachments for your guns in the loadout screen and then change them on the fly as you play. If you’re headed into some tight hallways, you can quickly swap your assault rifle’s long-range scope for iron sights and toss on a suppressor to cover the sounds of your shots. If you’re facing a vehicle, you can pull out your anti-infantry rounds for armor-piercing bullets. The ability to use any weapon at almost any time, combined with customizing your gear for the situation you’re up against, makes you feel like both an important part of a team with a specific job, and a versatile fighter ready for a variety of situations.

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Speaking of quality-of-life changes, there’s nothing quite as nice as the new call-in tablet that lets you summon a vehicle just about anywhere. Battlefield is known for its expansive maps that take a lot of time to cross, and seeing a huge open field ahead of you and calling in a jeep or a tank to cut down the time needed to cross it is excellent. Level design in Battlefield 2042 is generally geared toward getting you into the fight more quickly than in the past, with maps designed for “clustering” that drives the action to specific locations, but just having the ability to get into the action as soon as possible (while lessening the likelihood of getting pegged by a sniper on your way to the actual fight) feels like a major improvement to Battlefield overall.

Battlefield 2042 forgoes the single-player campaign altogether, instead focusing entirely on competitive multiplayer. At launch it includes three different types of competitive modes, each offering surprisingly different experiences. The more traditional are the All-Out Warfare modes, Breakthrough and Conquest. Both center around huge armies of as many as 128 players attempting to capture control points in various “sectors” as they fight for victory. Conquest remains as fans remember it from past games, with the goal being to exhaust the enemy’s respawn tickets by killing opponents and capturing control points; the more points you hold, the more the opposing team bleeds tickets. Battlefield 2042 carries the slight adjustment that requires your team to often capture several control points in a specific “sector” in order to completely capture it and gain its advantage, providing more opportunities for a losing team to turn the tides and more places where skirmishes can kick off.

Conquest, like in past Battlefield games, can feel chaotic and haphazard, with players streaming in from all directions at all times and plenty of opportunities to get picked off by someone you didn’t see. That can be increased by Battlefield 2042 feeding in “Occupying Forces,” which are AI-controlled soldiers who fill out a game’s player roster if there are gaps. The AI bots are not especially smart, but they do help make matches feel like enormous battles with a huge number of combatants.

Breakthrough, on the other hand, is a more streamlined, tuned version of the experience, not unlike Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s Rush mode, but on a larger scale. One team attacks while the other defends, but only one sector is active on a map at a time. The attacking team has to capture all the control points in the sector in order to advance to the next, but they have limited respawns with which to do so, while the defending team has infinite respawns. Breakthrough feels like a more action-heavy, straightforward gametype compared to Conquest, where you always know roughly where the enemy will come from and where the action will be, making huge maps feel less daunting. Where Conquest is a huge and free, if confusing, experience, Breakthrough is a smaller, tighter, more predictable one.

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In both All-Out Warfare modes, though, battles often seemed to come down to which team was smarter and better at using vehicles. That’s not really surprising given Battlefield’s history–vehicles tend to dominate pretty often in the franchise, and in our playtime, we could go on ridiculous tears with the right tank or Wildcat. Still, it’s something that feels like it’ll need tuning, as while there are a couple of specialists specifically equipped to deal with vehicles, they still tend to roll over players (sometimes literally) who don’t have many good options to deal with them.

Battlefield 2042’s other two modes, Hazard Zone and Portal, take a very different tack from more traditional Battlefield modes. Hazard Zone is a 32-person, squad-based free-for-all mode that’s a bit of a riff on battle royale games, but with a more objective-oriented flavor. Your squad of four heads into a map with the goal of seeking out and pilfering hard drives from crashed satellites. Capturing drives earns you special Dark Market Credits you can spend on your loadout between matches, as does killing opposing players and Occupying Forces. To get the credits from the drives, however, you need to reach an extraction point and board a plane. If you die in the mode, you’re dead for good, unless a squadmate can survive long enough to use an “uplink” device found on the map to summon you back into the fight.

Hazard Zone’s mixture of battle royale and free-for-all ideas makes it a standout experience, particularly when you add in the specialists. Unlike in other modes, your squad can only have one of each specialist on it during a Hazard Zone match, so working together to decide on a strategy and which abilities best fit your team’s game plan is important. Where the All-Out Warfare modes are huge and messy, Hazard Zone is a much more strategic and close-knit experience, and it works beautifully with all the different customization and specialization elements at play.

The drawback of Hazard Zone is that winning begets winning. The more credits you earn in a match, the better your chances of being well-outfitted in the next match, because you can use those credits to buy tactical upgrades like uplinks for saving squadmates or faster health regeneration for yourself. Dark Market Credits are also necessary to buy anything other than the base assault rifle, pistol, and grenade–if you want a sniper rifle, you need the funds to buy it, and it’ll only last for one match. Unlike other battle royale games, though, the slate isn’t wiped clean with every new match; you’re rewarded for having done well in your last run. So the more you win, the more advantages you get to take forward. It’s frustrating to get sniped right out of the gate of a match, for instance, when you didn’t even have the option to buy a sniper rifle of your own.

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Finally, there’s Portal, which fills out Battlefield 2042’s multiplayer match offerings with seemingly endless variety. The mode allows players to create matches and gametypes of their own using a web-based editor and make them available to the community to play. The editor is impressively robust–Portal allows you to do easy things like change the rules of a match so that players can run faster or only use certain weapons, but there’s also an in-depth logic editor that lets you create much more involved contingencies. DICE demonstrated its capabilities by creating a rocket launcher-only match that required players to jump up and down in order to reload their weapons, which led to some ridiculous chaos as a pair of players would miss their initial bout with explosives and descend on each other in a desperate knife fight.

Portal also opens up the options by allowing you to mix elements of Battlefield 1942, Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3, and Battlefield 2042 together in matches. The games have all been streamlined somewhat to feel similar to 2042, so there’s parity between forcing the soldiers of World War II on one team to fight those of the near future on another. Still, the mixing of different games and their weapons, gadgets, vehicles, and classes means the community can create a whole host of different experiences. The possibilities add a great deal of variety to Battlefield 2042’s offerings at launch, which would otherwise feel a bit thin with only All-Out Warfare and Hazard Zone.

Perhaps the bigger draw, at least initially, will be the opportunity to play 128-player battles on old Battlefield game maps, with their original classes, weapons, and rules intact. We ran through a smattering of matches borrowed from the older games, and each brought a rush of nostalgia with it as we played those Battlefield classics. They notably lack some of the quality-of-life improvements of Battlefield 2042, and a lot of Portal’s mixed-up modes feel like they’ll mostly be good for laughs. But like the customization options and specialists in the 2042 portion of the game, Portal offers a bunch of new ways to expand on the core Battlefield experience.

It must be noted that Battlefield 2042 has been pretty buggy in the days following its launch. Things have improved since the review event and early access period thanks to a Day 1 patch, but problems persist. Players have documented a whole host of issues, from weapons and characters not loading, to enemy players freezing instead of falling when they die. Sometimes scopes just don’t magnify, or you can’t revive a teammate because the prompt never appears on screen. And sometimes, bullets just don’t seem to work against some players.

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My experience with Battlefield 2042 on PC has been buggy but playable, and none of my issues have been game-breaking. Servers have felt pretty stable and glitches were mostly just momentary annoyances. But your mileage may absolutely vary when it comes to these problems, especially given the other, much more troublesome issues players have documented online. It seems like the experience might be worse on console than on PC, but at least for the time being and before more patches are released, you’re going to see bugs.

It’s also an open question as to DICE’s live-game approach to Battlefield 2042 after its launch. With no single-player campaign, DICE has said it’ll still be telling a story in the game’s world through the seasonal addition of new specialists and content. The developer has also said that it’ll be adding more elements to Portal, depending on feedback it receives from the Battlefield community. A live-game approach seems like it could offer a lot of additional gameplay variety to 2042 over time, but we’ll have to see how DICE’s approach works out, in building its world, adding new variety through its specialists, and offering new opportunities for creativity.

What’s really impressive in Battlefield 2042 is the variety that’s on offer. It lets you play a bunch of different kinds of FPS experiences–in different game modes, in different Portal rule sets, and even in the same match as you switch between characters. Portal lets you relive the Battlefield games of the past, but on the 2042 side, DICE has cherry-picked from popular trends like hero shooters and battle royales. The best part is that, mostly, it has done a really effective job of curating those additions so that they bring more to what players already like about Battlefield, rather than change what already works.

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