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Oddworld: Soulstorm Review

Oddworld: Soulstorm has been a long time coming. A direct sequel to Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, Soulstorm is a loosely drawn reimagining of the second Oddworld game, Abe’s Exoddus. Soulstorm looks shiny and PS5-new, with beautifully detailed characters and vast sweeping landscapes in its backgrounds, but it has an old soul. Soulstorm’s stealthy platforming feels like a throwback: It’s unlike any game I’ve played in a long time, and that’s refreshing. But with old-school gameplay, Soulstorm retains some archaic design choices that feel outdated in 2021. The pain from those choices is accentuated by the game’s many serious technical issues, which can blow even the most carefully played sequences at the drop of a hat. Soulstorm has a lot of heart, but its poor tuning makes it a bit of a slog.

Like its predecessors, Soulstorm puts you in control of Abe, a now free slave with the ability to take control of his former captors using a special chant. Each level strings together a gauntlet of side-scrolling stealth-platforming puzzles. As Abe, you’ll sneak across each stage, jumping across platforms to dodge traps while avoiding conflict as much as possible. All the while, you’re searching for your fellow Mudokons, Abe’s species of lanky green Oddworlders, most of whom are still slaves in factories and mines. Staying out of harm’s way requires careful planning and timing. Like many stealth games, you’re carefully monitoring guard movements and vision cones to find the perfect moment to move from one hiding spot to the next, or to dispatch a guard. There’s a tense, nail-biting thrill to maneuvering your way into and out of danger.

Though stealth factors into most areas, there are also a fair number of pure platforming sequences. Dodging flamethrowers, buzzsaws, spikes, and other dangers is also often a matter of getting the timing right. Soulstorm’s best platforming sequences feel more puzzle-like than a reflex test, balancing time pressure and a need to methodically feel your way through whatever lethal obstacles it throws your way.

In both situations, patience is a virtue. Though running and jumping are responsive, most other actions take time. Hiding in a locker or stepping out of one takes a second. If you don’t get the drop on a guard, they’ll shoot and kill you before you can aim and throw a rock. The windows for moving around and staying out of sight are pretty small, so you need to know how every enemy in the area moves and how they’ll react to whatever you plan to do. If you ever have any doubt, waiting and seeing is the best course of action. That means, of course, that you’ll progress through each encounter quite slowly.

Abe isn’t a fighter, but he has some tools at his disposal. He can find and craft makeshift weapons like rubber band balls, smoke screens, and explosive sodas, which can either help him avoid detection or knock guards unconscious. Abe also has the ability to control certain enemies with the aforementioned chant ability, which lets you use guards to open doors and fight enemies. While there are often many options to deal with any given situation, all of these tools are fairly straightforward and obvious in their application. If it looks like you need to make a smokescreen to block a patrolling guard’s vision, then that’s probably the best thing to do. Soulstorm’s particular brand of stealth measures your timing more than your creativity.

This is doubly true when you’re leading a group of AI-controlled Mudokons around. After recruiting them, the Mudokons will follow close behind Abe unless you tell them to hang back. Though they’re packed closely, a group of stragglers makes your movements infinitely larger and easier to spot. And while they can technically defend themselves if you give them tools, they’ll die very quickly if seen. They’ll also step right on a landmine, even if you jump over it. Moving around with allies in tow requires you to take the slowest, steadiest pace and give every obstacle a wide berth. It can make for interesting and more strategic play but stings when someone gets smashed by a piston because they didn’t take that one extra step to dodge a giant swinging pendulum.

No matter how slow you move forward, that demanding precision is where things fall apart for Soulstorm. The character AI for both your enemies and Mudokon allies is relatively unpredictable. In some cases, it’s purely a glitch: When your alert status drops from “Medium” to “Calm,” guards don’t always revert to their peaceful guard patterns, making it impossible to pass without engaging them. In other cases, the AI simply reacts poorly: When you enter a locker, your Mudokon followers are supposed to find other lockers and hide, but I lost many followers because they stood still like a deer in headlights rather than enter an empty locker. Too often, the machinery of an encounter would break down and force a reset or a less than desirable outcome. With an antiquated checkpointing system and no option for a manual quicksave, a costly AI error can roll you back to the start of a very long, slow-moving sequence that becomes less interesting with each try.

There are also plenty of other impactful bugs. I encountered enemies that could see beyond their vision cones, I’ve lost control of mind-controlled enemies, and I’ve woken up at least one sleeping Slig because it was floating in mid-air rather than on the ground. As with all games in the modern era, it’s possible that all of these issues will be fixed in future versions, but until they are, a game that offers little room for error is rife with technical problems that force you to retry. At the risk of beating a dead horse, it can’t be understated how big a deal it is that Soulstorm relies purely on progress-based checkpoints for saving. You can easily find yourself stuck in a poor situation if you, let’s say, roll through a checkpoint as an enemy is about to find your hidden Mudokon pals. It can also force you to repeat mundane tasks like picking up items and crafting. Both problems cause difficult sequences to take longer and make bug-induced resets more frustrating. Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, a game from seven years ago, had a quicksave feature, so this feels like a huge oversight.

Soulstorm’s setting and story are charming, though. The story, which picks up from the end of Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, brings us back to Abe and his flock of revolutionary Mudokons, who are now free and on the run from their former masters, the Glukkons. Abe’s escape has thrown Oddworld into turmoil. Through traveling and meeting more escaped Mudokons, he finds that his symbolic position as the first Mudokon to successfully throw off his shackles will require him to take on a real leadership role. The established but still-unique look of Oddworld’s characters makes the world and its story immediately captivating. For longtime fans, seeing that world reimagined with PS5-level graphics may be worth the price of admission, despite the game’s technical shortcomings.

Even if you don’t already have an affection for Oddworld, Soulstorm looks great. The levels feature what developer Oddworld Inhabitants calls a “2.9D” visual style: 3D art on a 2D plane, which twists, turns, and shifts to make the levels feel less linear. In the background, you can often see an entire level stretched out into the distance, along with rocky mountain faces, massive buildings, and factory machinery, which all create an incredible sense of scale. Abe, important as he is, is just a little fish compared to Oddworld’s sprawling industrial landscape. Though the background is often just set dressing, there are a few instances where the background elements come into the fore, and while that isn’t exactly a new trick, the speedy, smooth animation of an oncoming train hurtling toward you from out of the blue remains impressive.

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Gallery

At the same time, Soulstorm’s clear penchant for spectacle also frequently gets the better of it. There are a handful of set-piece sequences sprinkled throughout the adventure, most of which have unique technical problems and/or design flaws. In the game’s third level, mortar fire rains down, creating random explosions as you progress. The explosions are only semi-randomized, though: If you stand still for more than a few seconds (which isn’t unlikely in a stealth game) the explosions will find you and target you. There’s no crosshair or indicator that you should be worried about the explosions following you, and there are very few places to hide. A series of sequences where you must defend a large number of escaping Mudokon dispense with stealth altogether, pushing you to defeat the guards as quickly as you can. In both cases, Soulstorm plays against type: Abe’s movements are honed for stealth and platforming, and the game never does well when it deviates from those two core competencies.

Those core ideas, stealth and puzzle-platforming, work well in Soulstorm, but only some of the time. Though plodding and slow-paced relative to modern stealth games, there is something satisfying to its puzzle-like approach. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see the good through issues with the AI, frustrating checkpointing, and technical troubles. Oddworld is an interesting world and I hope we get to see the rest of Abe’s saga, but the series needs more than a new coat of paint to breathe new life into the series.

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Now Playing: Oddworld: Soulstorm Trailer | PlayStation State of Play

Star Wars: Republic Commando Remastered Review

First released in 2005, Star Wars: Republic Commando acted as many a young Star Wars fan’s initial introduction to the concept that the clone troopers of the prequel trilogy are human beings–creating unique identities for the seemingly identical soldiers. Republic Commando has a strong legacy among Star Wars fans–despite the game’s removal from the official canon, it remains a key part of the Star Wars universe, especially when it comes to video game entries.

Handled by Aspyr Media, Star Wars: Republic Commando Remastered brings the original 2005 Xbox and PC game to PS4 and Switch with enhanced HD graphics and modernized controls, though the multiplayer is absent. Otherwise, it’s the same game. And though the flaws in its gameplay are only more noticeable now 16 years later, this remaster manages to still deliver a compelling story of four specialized commandos engaging in a variety of combat missions across the Clone Wars.

Squad Up

In Republic Commando, you play as RC-1138 aka “Boss,” commanding sergeant of a specialized commando unit trained to take on missions that require a greater level of skill and cognitive ability than standard clone troopers possess. Your unit, Delta Squad, is also composed of sarcastic demolitions expert RC-1262 aka “Scorch,” by-the-books hacker and technical analyst RC-1140 aka “Fixer,” and morbidly grim sniper RC-1207 aka “Sev.” The game takes place over several locations, beginning with an assignment on Geonosis at the end of Attack of the Clones and concluding on Kashyyyk just prior to the events of Revenge of the Sith.

The different actors for Boss (Temuera Morrison), Scorch (Raphael Sbarge), Fixer (Andrew Chaikin), and Sev (Jonathan David Cook) do most of the legwork in differentiating each member of the squad from one another. Most of the game sees all four working together, providing numerous opportunities for conversations between the squad. This helps to build a rapport with your AI-teammates–Scorch and Sev’s brotherly rivalry with one another is still amusing years later, as are Fixer’s repeated but useless reprimands for the two of them to act more like adults. As you’re in command, the others look up to you as a big brother figure, and this familial bond creates a tendency to act protectively towards your squadmates.

That’s a good thing, because that desire to keep your squad alive will help motivate you to make good decisions. Having elements of a tactical shooter, Republic Commando offers you options in how to lead your squad through combat gauntlets–these range from general orders such as “defend a spot” or “search and destroy,” to more specific commands like telling Sev to use his sniper rifle from behind a certain piece of cover or tasking Scorch with setting a demolition charge on an obstacle in front of you. Holographic outlines of where a squadmate can do something will appear on your HUD, allowing you to know what options you have in each area and easily assign squadmates to where you want them to go.

The Illusion Of Command

Early on, there isn’t much agency in how you can command your squad, which, along with the game’s linear nature, can feel disappointingly restrictive. There’s very little choice in how to tackle a problem on Geonosis–usually the solution is just given to you as you’re funneled into a plan instead of making your own. But your possibilities do open up in later levels.

For example, my favorite part of the game has you enter a hangar where you know droid soldier dispensers are going to land–in fact you can see them in the distance, giving you a window of opportunity to quickly devise a plan before the fight breaks out. Throughout the hangar, there are spots where your squad can take up positions to snipe or throw grenades or man a turret, but there are also a dozen or so canisters where you or a squadmate can attach motion-sensing explosive traps. So it’s a mad dash to get a good idea of how the hangar is laid out, decide where to assign your squad to do the most damage, and figure out where to put traps to plug the holes in your defense. It encourages you to make good judgment calls fast because the threat is so imminent. And it’s impossible to do everything before the first dispenser arrives, forcing you to react to any of your mistakes. It’s a tense moment but so incredibly rewarding, because it’s one of the strongest examples of seeing how your plans can save the day.

Republic Commando doesn’t give you something like that prior, nor does it do anything too similar for the rest of the campaign (there are a couple of other standout moments like it, but they don’t quite require the same level of strategic prowess), which unfortunately means that this tactical game isn’t actually all that tactical. Sure, you’re directing the squad and making the decisions, but when the decision is whether or not you want to use a certain sniping spot (without much downside either way), the decision-making process isn’t as impactful.

No Caption Provided

And that’s where Republic Commando Remastered struggles the most. In 2005, the illusion that you were regularly making impactful decisions was only broken after playing the game several times and noticing that you were largely making similar decisions to your first run through the game. In 2021, with 16 more years of game design iteration to compare to, it’s a lot more obvious. It’s not like you can assign your fellow commandos to snipe from anywhere for instance, you can only tell them to snipe from predetermined locations and there’s typically no more than one or two spots per area. If you enter an area and there’s a computer to hack in order to proceed and one place to provide cover with sniper fire, the level design is automatically funneling you into solving the immediate problem by splicing into the computer and placing a sniper for overwatch support. Sure you could just choose to not place the sniper where the game has designated the ideal spot, but that doesn’t really impact the battle other than making it a bit longer because no one is taking out the far-off targets since everyone in the squad is waiting for enemies to close in. That’s not you making a strategy to the best of your tactical abilities, that’s the level design telling you what to do–and there’s no satisfaction in following someone else’s plan in a game all about tactics.

And so for several moments throughout the game (especially the start), it can feel like you’re just going through the motions of assigning squadmates to the two or three necessary positions that need filling. It’s a problem that becomes less prominent further into the game when you start being put into larger spaces with four or more possible commands and thus giving you the opportunity to actually decide what you want to do, but your lack of agency as a commander never really goes away.

Even though tactical command options are fairly limited, the absence of them is still noticeable, and the rare moments when your tactical abilities are stripped from you are still incredibly effective at instilling a sense of vulnerability. After you build rapport with the other members of Delta Squad, you’re occasionally thrown into situations where you must fight solo. With no teammates chirping in your ear, it’s incredibly lonely and that feeling is reinforced through the gameplay in the lack of squadmates to assist you in battle–you can’t assign Sev to cover you or task Fixer to slowly hack a computer while you and Scorch hold off an oncoming threat, you have to do everything on your own. It’s definitely not as stressful as playing a survival horror game, but the sensation is similar; it sells the urgency of the situation where you need to reconvene with your squad as soon as you can. Even if your ability to direct your team is somewhat limited most of the time, your role as the commander builds a strong sense of camaraderie and it’s noticeable when it’s gone.

Changes In The Remaster

The lack of multiplayer is the remaster’s most noticeable change, though admittedly, multiplayer was never Republic Commando’s strong suit. The multiplayer included two variations of deathmatch and two variations of capture the flag on eight different maps that were inspired by levels from the campaign–it was your standard mid-2000s multiplayer shooter affair (meaning it was not Halo 2), and it lacked the squad-based banter that makes the single-player campaign as enjoyable as it is.

I also don’t miss the game’s old control scheme, which was somewhat annoying on the original Xbox. On Switch and PS4, the game takes advantage of the Joy-Con and DualShock 4’s bumpers, two extra buttons that the original Xbox controller didn’t have, in order to make switching grenades and visor modes easier.

No Caption Provided

For this review, I played Republic Commando Remastered on Switch. Playing it docked and with a gamepad controller is my preference considering it’s easier to see far off targets on a larger screen, but the game holds up in handheld mode with the Joy-Con controllers too. Having not tested the remaster on PS4 (or PS5 via backwards compatibility), I can’t comment on that version, but the Switch did hitch on occasion–basically every time the game loaded into a new area, registered a manual save, or tried to manage numerous enemies and/or explosions on the screen. It never put me in a more difficult situation, but it is noticeable and thus a bit annoying. My game also outright crashed once, but the generous auto save feature meant I only lost a few seconds of progress.

On Switch, aiming can take some getting used to, but Republic Commando is quite loose on demands for precision so the Joy-Con controllers can effectively line up a shot–you don’t have to be exact, you just have to ensure your gun is aiming in the right direction. It’s thankfully generous in what counts as a hit, so it’s never frustrating that you can’t achieve the same level of precision as a mouse and keyboard.

Same Game, New Paint Job

In the end, Republic Commando Remastered doesn’t do anything to drastically change the experience of playing the original game. And to that end, its shortcomings have only become more apparent with time–tactical shooters have evolved to offer more satisfying experiences with choice and consequence–so you likely won’t find much replayability here.

But it’s still entertaining all things considered. If you loved its campaign back then, you’ll see that it has aged well in some respects. And if you haven’t played Republic Commando before, the remaster’s upgraded graphics and modernized control scheme allow you to enjoy a game that’s 16 years old.

Plus, Vode An, Republic Commando’s main theme, is still the most epic piece of original composition made for a Star Wars video game, and that alone deserves to be experienced.

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Balan Wonderworld Review – Costume Drama

In the center of Balan Wonderworld’s hub area lies the construction site of a clock tower. Complete the 12 worlds–the entry points to which are arranged at random around the tower like dial markings on a jumbled clock face–and the clock tower rises further into the sky; an elaborate contraption that stands as a monument to your hours played. Despite a thematic preoccupation with telling the time, Balan Wonderworld feels like something of an anachronism, a throwback 3D platformer whose occasional charms arrive too late.

Balan Wonderworld makes a terrible first impression. It’s a 3D platformer where the primary act of running around the levels feels sloppy. Swapping character costumes to employ new abilities is the key novelty, but the initial batch of costumes fail to inspire, and instead add the sorts of abilities you’d take for granted in any other platformer. Completing the early game doldrums, you’re dropped into levels without context nor any attempt to explain your goals.

The clumsy controls and character movement are the most persistent problem. There’s a weird dissonance in the way it feels like you’re moving too slowly while the choppiness of the simplistic animation gives the illusion of moving too quickly. Your character will float slightly above the ground even when standing on a flat surface. Jumping and judging distance feels sloppy and imprecise, mostly thanks to a stickiness of movement but also because, from time to time, the useful ground shadows cast by yourself and other objects will simply disappear. To put it kindly, mistiming or failing to land a jump doesn’t always feel like it’s your own fault.

Perhaps the core design of Balan Wonderworld was asking too much. Your character can equip dozens of different costumes, each conferring a different (though not unique, as there are overlaps) set of abilities, requiring a different range of animations for running, jumping, and whatever else they can do. One moment you’re controlling a muscular wolf with a spin attack, the next moment you’ve transformed into a spider who can skitter up any webbed wall. Not to mention the bobbing chess rook who turns into a turret when you stand still, or the little lizard who can use its tongue as a grappling hook, or the marching band boy with a drum goofily strapped to his back.

With seemingly so many options at your disposal, it’s inevitable that compromises were made. The sheer number of costumes is remarkable, and the range of abilities they deliver by the end of the game is surprising. And it’s testament to the strength of the design that, for the most part, the levels support playthroughs with varied combinations of equipped costumes. But even so, too many feel too similar. The costume that lets you break large blocks is basically the same as the other costume that lets you break large blocks. And another handful have only limited special-case uses or are sadly under-utilized. You don’t really feel like you’re playing as a muscular wolf when you don the costume, nor do you feel like you’re playing as a skittering spider; you’re just the same boy or girl who can now spin into enemies or climb walls. Greater variety and flexibility, something that beefs up the costume department to feel truly transformative, would be welcome.

Exploring a world is thus less about the sheer delight of physically navigating the space, and more about enjoying how the various costumes and abilities come into play. Admittedly, things take a little while to warm up–the early levels are intentionally quite basic, since you have access to only a few costumes. But by the fourth or fifth world you’ve moved well beyond costumes that merely let you jump a bit further and the level design itself ramps up accordingly, offering a more intricate and sophisticated challenge. The giant tree level, with its vertiginous drops and well-disguised grapple points, is a mid-game highlight. I particularly enjoyed how the warping concavity of the surreal chess world encouraged the use of costumes that could glide long distances. My favorite, though, is the late-game gallery, an Escher-esque maze of rotating stairways and portals that turn the floor into the ceiling.

It’s rewarding to move through a level, thinking about how you’re going to tackle the next obstacle with your current wardrobe while also keeping an eye out for other paths you could have taken if you had equipped a different costume. Indeed, these are worlds built to be replayed in the sense that all of them contain secret areas and collectibles that can only be accessed through the use of costumes acquired on later levels. You’ll spy many items on an initial playthrough that’ll leave you wondering how on earth you can reach them. Learning to recognize the limits of your current costumes, and what costumes you might need to swap to at the nearest checkpoint, is part and parcel of the experience.

It’s a shame that the novel costume mechanic isn’t given better support on a narrative level. The opening scene-setting cinematic fails at its one job. The suggestion seems to be that your chosen character, teased and rejected by their peers, finds refuge in a mysterious old theatre where the resident showman–Balan himself–promises to help you. But in each world that branches off the hub area, you’re helping some other troubled soul to conquer their demons for no readily discernible reason. In a baffling move, the cutscene introducing each person shows midway through their world, meaning you spend the first half of each level with no idea why you’re there.

Some of the people you’re helping are more sympathetic than others; in one world, a young girl is traumatized after her kitten is run over by a car, while elsewhere a successful chess master must recover from, uh… losing a big match. Maudlin sentimentality prevails, as do lazy tropes, such as the woman who is “scared to love” having her tale situated in a frigid ice world. In any case, no effort is made to develop them as characters. Though you may see these people from time to time inside a level, you’ll never interact with them, nor are you granted any deeper insight into their state of mind. They have a problem and you solve it by beating the level, and that’s it. To say Balan Wonderworld takes a light touch to its story presentation would be an understatement. The result is confusing rather than intriguing and ultimately means you stop paying attention to whatever is trying to serve as a narrative thread.

A couple of dismal mini-games plumb the nadir. Collecting a sports costume prompts a brief chance to play a hole of golf or try to score a penalty kick in soccer, for example. They are bad, unimaginative and forgettable, but at least they’re over in a matter of seconds. In contrast, the “Balan Bout” mini-game forces you to sit through a lengthy cinematic sequence of Balan fighting a demon with a few trivial QTEs thrown in to ensure you haven’t dozed off or popped out for a snack.

Similarly tired and formulaic are the end-of-world encounters with bosses who run through basic attack patterns you’ve learned to avoid in countless other games–whack ’em three times and they’re dead. Bonus rewards incentivize finding different strategies to beat a boss. These add a layer of experimentation as you try out different costumes, but they don’t fundamentally alter the flow of the encounter. They’re more just a neat little twist.

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There’s a lot going on in Balan Wonderworld and sometimes you feel like that is to its detriment. It jumps from world to world–taking in standard platformer fare like the water level and lava level, but also venturing further afield to the spooky mansion level and surreal chessboard level. However, the game struggles to convey a coherent vision that aligns its disparate environments, and it jumps from world to world, and costume to costume, without providing much sense that any of it connects together.

Throughout, there’s the faint presence of Balan’s theatre–it’s in the red curtain doors that lead you into each world, in the ludicrous song and dance numbers that conclude every level, and in the cavalcade of costume changes. It’s a motif that could conceivably work to tie everything together and be the consistent throughline the game is crying out for, but it’s too thin and all too easily forgotten once you’re in a level.

Balan Wonderworld feels like a game from another time. In a different era the rough edges, inconsistent mechanics, and formulaic design may have been things that players could overlook, but in this moment in time, it’s a 3D platformer of a quality that can’t compete with polished modern-day contemporaries from Nintendo, Sony, and the like. It has its merits and delivers an unexpectedly mentally stimulating platformer when it manages to play to its strengths, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

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Outriders Review

April 2, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Outriders is a game that isn’t defined by big new ideas, but rather a variety of familiar elements mixed together in experimental ways. It’s a role-playing game with loot-shooter elements; it’s a serious, dark sci-fi outing that often comes with a pretty big dose of humor; it’s a third-person cover shooter that demands you rush out and smash enemies with your ludicrously lethal magic powers. Whether this mixture works for you will determine how much you’ll enjoy exploring the war-torn planet of Enoch and the last desperate vestige of humanity clinging to life there.

Outriders blends well-known video game elements into something new and challenging, and while it takes itself seriously, it isn’t self-serious. The game is about the human race destroying its home, violently colonizing new spaces, and tearing itself apart, but its heavy themes are often lightened up by a general blockbuster goofiness and characters defined by their gallows humor. You find a place within it as an accidental superbeing with space magic powers on the newly colonized planet Enoch, and you’re mostly just annoyed that irritating people are wasting your time with their gopher chores. It’s a fun, self-aware fit.

Though Outriders looks like a live game of the loot-shooter persuasion, it’s actually much more Mass Effect 3 than Destiny 2–like Mass Effect, RPG progression, an expansive story, and cover-shooting are more the engine of the game than chasing the next new gun. Although it does have a hearty dose of gear progression, Outriders is a cover-shooter RPG, leaning heavily into an epic story told with tons of dialogue, cutscenes, character interactions, and collectible lore.

Developer People Can Fly has clearly drawn a lot from its past work on the Gears of War series in creating Outriders. Rifle-sporting enemies take fortified positions to unload on you at a distance, backed up by shotgunners who try to close the gap, armored troops carrying chainguns who plod toward you through the open, and cleaver-wielding sprinters who charge straight at your face to drive you out of cover.

The gameplay core of Outriders is shooting, and you’ll have a mess of guns at your disposal. Though you can only have two main weapons and a sidearm equipped at any given time, you’ll have lots of options thanks to the loot-shooter half of the Outriders formula. That means you can pair a sniper rifle with a shotgun or assault rifles and SMGs, and since you’re constantly searching for weapons with better stats, you’ll cycle through a lot of different loadouts in a short amount of time.

What makes these weapons especially fun is the myriad different properties and status effects they can have, like dispensing poison, blowing enemies up, freezing people solid, and more. Recalling Gears of War again, Outriders’ shooting is reliably solid, fun, and feels good–but finding synergies between your weapons’ weird properties is a lot of what makes the shooting part of the game rewarding. The deeper into Outriders you get, the more fun the shooting becomes as you start to rack up the Legendary guns that do awesome, ridiculous things. The core shooting is spiced up with wrinkles like hitting enemies with lightning strikes, healing you for landing headshots, and dropping comets on people.

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Things get weirder in its merging of space superpowers with the cover shooter core. You can choose from one of four ability classes early in the game: Devastator, Trickster, Pyromancer, or Technomancer. These each have the general roles of tank, rogue, damage-focused mage, and debuff-focused mage–the Devastator uses gravity attacks for close-range kills, the Trickster teleports around to get the drop on enemies, the Pyromancer is a mid-range fire-flinger, and the Technomancer can summon turrets and rockets that also poison or slow targets.

Each class has a different way of replenishing health through combat, generally by focusing on their specific strengths. The Devastator, for instance, heals you for every close-range kill, encouraging you to get in close to enemies to hit them with powers like a short-range earthquake. Combat becomes a constant calculus between when to cut the distance and take down an enemy and when to take cover, bide your time, and protect yourself.

That combination can be a bit confusing and, as a result, combat is a place where Outriders can both sprint and stumble. You’re playing a shooter where you use cover to keep yourself alive, but you’re often encouraged to leave cover to keep yourself alive. That push and pull of avoiding incoming damage and taking the fight to the enemy requires you to constantly manage the battlefield, as well as your ability cooldown timers. If you jump out of cover and go wild with all your powers on an approaching enemy, you’ll leave yourself exposed for all their friends and quickly find yourself cut down by incoming fire.

That means having an earthquake ready to stun incoming fighters is essential to saving your life, since it allows you to grab kills while keeping your head down. Similarly, abilities like the Trickster’s teleport, which instantly puts you behind enemies in cover, are just as useful for dramatically repositioning yourself across the battlefield as they are for eliminating foes. But you can rarely just go all-out with your guns and abilities–you really have to think about where you are, where your enemies are, and how you can best eliminate them without exposing yourself.

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It can feel unintuitive at first, but when you do find the balance between using your powers, healing yourself, and staying out of fire, Outriders creates some pitched, frantic battles that use cover just enough to give you a second to breathe, without pinning your shoulder to a single chest-high wall and leaving you there for minutes on end. As you hit tougher battles in the late game, the combination of overwhelming enemies and incredible powers and guns mixes together to create some explosive, nail-biting battles. These fights also highlight how well Outriders’ modding system works, even if it is a bit awkwardly implemented. Earning new mods requires you to scrap armor and weapons that already include them, and you can only change one of two mod slots on any given item, so figuring out how it all works can be a bit confusing. When you spec out your gear to make your powers and guns stronger, adding defensive buffs, higher damage, and better healing, though, you really start to feel unstoppable, and the game ratchets up the challenge to match.

But there are also times when you find yourself surrounded or cut off, trapped between enemies, unable to kill anything fast enough to heal or escape the onslaught to save yourself. Sometimes a situation just seems unwinnable, forcing you to die and try again. Luckily, Outriders generally only sets you back a bit for these losses, so you can re-enter a fight quickly and try a new approach. Facing tougher Altered enemies, who have powers similar to yours, can result in battles of attrition where you have to cheese the situation by scurrying out of the arena so enemies don’t all chase you down at once. And sometimes, even careful management of powers, cover, and your spacing on the battlefield aren’t enough to save you, and it’s these moments when Outriders can get frustrating because it doesn’t feel like you’re losing for lack of skill.

There are ways to deal with that issue, however. Outriders is largely pretty open and has liberal fast-travel, so you can bail on a mission to go do a side-quest without much difficulty, allowing you to grab rewards that can boost your gear and character. As mentioned, once you get comfortable with the modding system, you can make changes to your loadout that make specific powers more viable, allowing you to really lean into powerful builds that give you an advantage and reward planning and strategy. The difficulty of enemies is also determined by the overall World Tier level, which rises as you earn experience points alongside your character. World Tier also determines loot drops, so there’s an incentive to keep it on the highest level you can, but if you’re in a particularly annoying fight, you can always back it down a touch to keep yourself from stalling. The World Tier is a smart solution to the difficulty problem, and since it can be adjusted any time, it gives you a lot of freedom to avoid frustration at key moments.

The combinations of over-the-top guns, ridiculous superpowers, and huge groups of enemies creates some awesome combat moments. Outriders might not reinvent any of the ideas at play in its battles, but it mixes them all together in some really inventive ways. Not every single battle in the game works exactly as intended, but it’s not a problem with the mix–it’s when the arena layout of a fight puts your back against the wall, or when you’re not specced out to deal with an unexpected threat.

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You can also play Outriders cooperatively, which elevates how frantic and wild combat can become. Having multiple superpowered players working together to stun enemies, teleport behind positions, spread out status effects, and dish out massive damage makes for a bombastic, sensory-overloading combat experience, especially in tougher endgame battles. It’s not a stretch to say that Outriders is best experienced with friends and other players–solo is fun but can get tough, while co-op fighting just continually highlights the game’s best features and encourages you to think creatively about combining powers, guns, battlefield control, and teamwork. After putting about 40 hours into Outriders, I regret not recruiting more pals to work through the main campaign at my side, especially because the game makes it very easy to drop into and play or replay every mission.

Unfortunately, playing together has been difficult since Outriders’ launch. Cross-play between PC and consoles, an element People Can Fly touted throughout the game’s development, is currently disabled (consoles players on separate platforms can currently team up, though). Some players have complained of server connection issues, and while I didn’t encounter any while I played on PC, I did have repeated crashes when connecting with friends and trying to play together. On console the server issues are more prevalent, with lengthy wait times when loading into the game and unexpected disconnects when playing.

These technical issues will likely get cleaned up over time, but right now, Outriders can be tough to play, and it’s frustrating that the game’s always-online nature means even those taking it on in single-player are stuck dealing with some of the problems. People Can Fly has said it’s working to improve the experience, but so far the most frustrating thing about the game has been those times when I was trying to load into an endgame Expedition mission and instead crashed to desktop two or three times before finally getting to play.

When it comes to narrative ambitions, I enjoyed Outriders’ lengthy story, although it winds up being darker and more disjointed than what is implied in the first half or so. People Can Fly has obviously put a lot of time and thought into the game’s lore, and there’s a lot of interesting writing to be found in journal entries and side-quests. What I liked most, however, is the unexpected mixture of desperation and humor. Enoch, the planet where Outriders takes place, was meant to be an idyllic new world for the remnants of humanity to colonize. Instead, it’s a war-torn hellscape where the last vestiges of the human race are literally ripping each other apart. The misery and torment of the situation is exacerbated by the Altered, like your character, who have gained godlike powers.

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Coupled with the dark, serious, and gritty sci-fi take are the moments of levity that make Outriders feel human. One mission found a group of cultists sacrificing soldiers to the Anomaly, the weird Enochian storm that destroys electronics, rips apart buildings, disintegrates people, and sometimes bestows superpowers. Rather than plead with the Anomaly worshipers for his life, the soldier attempted to reason with them, explaining that there was nothing supernatural in the strange storms. “It’s just electromagnetic … scientific … sh-t!” the guy yelled before they kicked him over a cliff, and I couldn’t help but laugh. If I were trying to disabuse some fanatical cultists of their misplaced and lethal worship of a colorful electrical phenomenon, I’d likely say something similar.

Unfortunately, the longer it goes on, the less Outriders leans into that mixture of intense topics and blockbuster levity. Things get dark as time goes on, but the road trip-style story abandons examining how to handle being a human-turned-god and instead looks into atrocities related to scientific ethics and colonialism. In the end, it feels like Outriders shifts subjects a few times, leaving a lot of threads hanging and without bringing many to a satisfying conclusion.

But the moments where Outriders is taking daring swings at mixing disparate elements are when it’s at its best. The game is surprisingly deft at combining things that shouldn’t work together: Its story is often funny but similarly severe; its combat requires you to take cover and to charge; its abilities make you phenomenally powerful but prone to overestimating yourself. If you can find the balance in Outriders, People Can Fly’s RPG-shooter finds ways to combine well-worn video game ideas into something new and fun. Especially when you’re accompanied by friends and put the time in to really understand the game’s systems, Outriders rewards you with epic battle moments and a sprawling scope. It left me wanting to continue venturing out into the wilds of Enoch to see what I might find there–and to smash whatever it was with seismic earthquake magic.

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Monster Hunter Rise Review – Standing Tall

March 29, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

The locations you explore in Monster Hunter Rise have already felt the delicate touch of humanity’s hand. Traditional Japanese torii can be found weaving through mountainside paths, leading to sacred shrines, while decaying temples have been reclaimed by nature as local plant life envelops the aging architecture. Signs of human life can even be found at the base of a raging volcano and in the midst of a flooded forest, where a Mesoamerican-style pyramid dominates the landscape.

If 2018’s Monster Hunter World was all about unearthing a new continent as an intrepid frontiersman, then Rise is a triumphant return to the Old World with valuable lessons learned. An enhanced port of the 3DS title Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate may have already graced the Nintendo Switch, but Rise is the first game in the series built from the ground up for Nintendo’s latest console. As such, Rise closely follows in the footsteps of World while reneging on some of its changes and introducing plenty of new impactful ideas that excellently shift the focus towards the series’ heart-pumping action.

The core Monster Hunter gameplay loop has remained relatively unchanged as you hunt down gargantuan monsters, harvest their materials to craft new weapons and armor, and tackle increasingly tougher foes. World coalesced both the single and multiplayer parts of the experience into one cohesive whole, but Rise reverts back to the old ways by splitting them into disparate Village and Hub quests. Village quests can only be played alone, while Hub quests can still be tackled solo but are designed with multiple players in mind. This isn’t the most welcome setup for newcomers since it isn’t immediately clear which quests progress the story, nor is there any indication of whether or not you should be alternating between both paths. The impact this structure has on the game isn’t as substantial as it initially seems, though. Hunting the same monster multiple times has always been a part of Monster Hunter’s DNA, so repeating the same mission as both a Village and Hub quest is something you would typically seek out anyway.

That’s not to say Rise isn’t approachable in other areas either. There’s a renewed focus on fast-paced action that strikes an impressive balance between being welcoming for newcomers and satisfying for battle-hardened veterans. When entering a location, for example, your trusty pet Cahoot will mark all of the nearby monsters on your map. You won’t immediately know the identity of each one until you’ve already discovered them, but this cuts down on the time it takes to seek out your foe and gets you into the heart of the action much faster. It’s an ideal fit for the Switch’s handheld mode, allowing you to jump in and out of its most thrilling moments without having to engage with the long-winded slog to find and follow a monster’s tracks.

Exploration is still a key part of the experience, even if you know the exact location of your prey. There are plenty of shortcuts and hidden paths to uncover within each location, and the addition of local wildlife–known as Endemic Life–encourages you to seek out every nook and cranny in order to gain the temporary buffs to damage output, stamina regeneration, and so on, that they offer. On the flip side, if you’re not interested in boosting specific stats to get a leg up in battle, you can always ignore the Endemic Life and tailor the challenge to your liking. Rise offers a degree of flexibility in the way you’re able to tackle each monster that goes beyond your choice of weapon and armor.

With that being said, the verticality afforded by the new Wirebug mechanic has the most significant impact on Rise’s exploration. This exciting new tool allows you to zip through the air by utilizing what’s known as Wire-dashing. From here, you can chain moves together, mixing in wall runs with additional Wire-dashes to reach previously unattainable heights and traverse the environment at a rapid pace. The finesse it requires takes some getting used to, and you still need to be shrewd with the Wirebug’s forgiving cooldown to be successful, but it’s an incredibly fun tool to use once you’re comfortable with its demands.

There’s a renewed focus on fast-paced action that strikes an impressive balance between being welcoming for newcomers and satisfying for battle-hardened veterans.

The Wirebug also plays an important role in combat, as each of Rise’s 14 signature weapons has its own Silkbind attacks. These unique moves are relatively easy to pull off and range from a timing-based counter with the Long Sword to an uppercut leading into an explosive downward strike with the Switch Axe. Each Silkbind attack can be linked into different combos, opening up your repertoire of potential techniques, and the Wirebug expands on this even further with its defensive maneuvers. The evasive Wirefall move, for instance, gives you an opportunity to get back on your feet and avoid a monster’s follow-up attack after being knocked down or pushed back, while the Wire-dash extends the reach of your dodge for when you need to quickly evade a rampaging beast.

Aside from the addition of Silkbind attacks, each of Rise’s weapon types have remarkable depth in keeping with the series’ traditions. Mastering a particular weapon is just as rewarding as before, and there’s also an element of customization available this time around too. The aptly named Switch Skills allow you to swap out certain regular and Silkbind attacks to make a weapon that’s reflective of your play style and preferences. An improved training area, and a reduction in the amount of materials necessary to upgrade a new weapon, also makes this aspect of the game more approachable for newcomers who need to experiment in order to find a weapon type that suits them.

Monster Hunter Rise screenshots via Capcom
Monster Hunter Rise screenshots via Capcom

Stamina and weapon sharpness have also been streamlined thanks to the addition of Palemutes. These new dog-like buddies will help you out in combat and can be decked out with weapons that only add to Rise’s combat depth, and they also act as mounts for you to ride any time you want. Stamina isn’t consumed when you’re on the back of your trusted Palemute, and you can even sharpen your weapon while traversing to give you something productive to do during travel, thus alleviating some of the more time-consuming aspects of Monster Hunter.

Multiplayer is also a hassle-free experience, whether you’re playing with a group of friends or with up to three strangers. The wait times are relatively short when joining an online hunt, and lag is a non-issue on Nintendo’s new online infrastructure. The frame rate holds up, too, even when the screen is awash with multiple hunters, particle effects, and the beasts themselves. And this is to say nothing of how good Rise is as a multiplayer game. There’s nothing else quite like gathering a party to go and hunt down an imposing adversary, and Rise’s new features only add to the inherent joy you can glean from its hectic cooperative action. Not to mention the fact that it gives support-oriented weapons–such as the reworked Hunter Horn–time to shine.

There is a basic story that sets all of this up by casting you as Kamura Village’s sole hunter, but the narrative is little more than a paper-thin vehicle for introducing Rise’s new mechanics and game modes. Chief among the latter is the Rampage: a special mission type that requires you to defend a stronghold from waves of ferocious monsters. The Rampage is inspired by Japanese folklore and the Hyakki Yagyō “Night Parade of One Hundred Demons” idiom in particular, which sees an uncontrollable horde of yokai march into our world. In gameplay terms, the Rampage is similar to a tower defense game, tasking you with placing various hunting installations around each stronghold in order to repel the frenzied invaders. Some of these installations are automatic and manned by NPC companions, while others can be manually controlled if you fancy dishing out some damage of your own with ballistas, cannons, and other heavy weaponry.

Rampage quests offer a respite from the usual Monster Hunter formula, delivering histrionic thrills as you find yourself bombarded by multiple monsters at once. There’s some satisfying depth to it as well, with progression rewarding you with more powerful installations and upgraded weapons. You can even jump into the action as you would on any other monster hunt, or lure the enemy to specific points on the battlefield to unleash devastating attacks with powerful installations like the Dragonator and the Splitting Wyvernshot. Completing a Rampage quest will reward you with the usual assortment of monster parts with which to craft weapons and armor, but you’re also incentivized to finish them in order to unlock Defender Tickets. These can be spent on numerous Rampage Skills that permanently boost specific weapons stats such as attack, affinity, and defense.

Monster Hunter Rise screenshots via Capcom
Monster Hunter Rise screenshots via Capcom

Part of what makes the Rampage so exciting is the addition of Wyvern Riding to your offensive arsenal. Monster riding was first introduced in Monster Hunter 4, but it’s had a significant shakeup in Rise. By performing a series of Silkbind and aerial attacks, a monster will enter a mountable state that allows you to hop on their back and go for a ride. You can launch your helpless prey into walls to deal damage and put them in a downed state that leaves them vulnerable for a time, or you can use them as a massive battering ram to attack other monsters. This is a tad cumbersome due to some stiff controls, but being able to ravage the monster you’re hunting with another beast is a singular treat that adds a tinge of kaiju-esque action to the proceedings–not to mention the strategic considerations it introduces to each hunt. Monsters will occasionally bump into each other and fight over territory, but you can also use Wyvern Riding to seek out another monster and force them into a confrontation, creating emergent moments that enhance the game’s core combat.

The monsters themselves consist of fan favorites such as Rathian, Diablos, and Puki-Puki, along with plenty of new monsters and a few surprises. Much like the Rampage, each of the new beasts are inspired by yokai and other legendary creatures from Japanese folklore. The menacing Somnacath, for example, is based on Japanese mermaids, which have the lower body of a fish and the upper body of a demon. It’s a fascinating creature to fight as it moves through the water like a sea otter before putting you to sleep with its siren’s song. Bishaten, on the other hand, is inspired by tengu, presenting an ape-like monster with the face of a crow and a dangerous tail the shape of tengu’s fan. Aside from using its rear appendage to deal damage, the Bishaten also throws large pieces of fruit at you, making it one of the more peculiar monsters in the bestiary.

Going toe-to-toe with these intimidating beasts is the unmistakable core of the Monster Hunter experience, and Rise still feels like a distinctly Monster Hunter game, even if it’s more of a fully-fledged action title than any other entry in the series. This renewed focus doesn’t diminish its layered RPG mechanics, nor does it dumb down on any single aspect of the hunt. Certain changes make Rise a more approachable game for newcomers, but you also have the freedom to tailor the experience to your liking. The moment-to-moment combat is as impeccable as it’s ever been and puts Rise on a pedestal as one of the feathers in the Nintendo Switch’s cap.

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Evil Genius 2: World Domination Review

March 29, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Building a criminal empire isn’t all fun and games, you know. In Evil Genius 2, the sequel/reboot of the 2004 cult classic strategy game, running a casino and super-secret volcano lair with a doomsday device takes vision… and the ability to manage an army of minions. It’s a management sim that requires careful planning and timing; you need to build a base that runs like a well-oiled machine that can mint the resources you’ll need to conquer the globe. To succeed where every Bond villain has failed, the base needs to double as a labyrinth of wild traps like shark pits and laser walls that can keep nosy secret agents from bringing too much heat down on you. Though aspects of the game can feel like they’re at cross-purposes from time to time, Evil Genius 2’s goofy, lighthearted vision perfectly captures a cartoony retro spy vibe that lets you revel in pretending you’re the ultimate evil boss.

Taking advantage of nearly 20 years of technological advances since the original, Evil Genius 2 makes good on the promise of making a Bond Villain simulator. The art, music, and style channel the cartoon camp of ‘60s and ‘70s spy movies and TV. In cutscenes, the Genius banters with rival villains and super spies or berates his minions, who maintain a sheepish, aww-shucks attitude. All of this paints the Genius’ rise to power as a fun, free-wheeling romp. The swanky lounge soundtrack, punctuated by dramatic musical cues likewise feels like it’s pulled out of the early-era Bond that permeates every pore of the game.

The '60s and '70s spy-movie vibe permeates every aspect of Evil Genius 2 to great effect.
The ’60s and ’70s spy-movie vibe permeates every aspect of Evil Genius 2 to great effect.

You can feel it most acutely in the characters. Though you are the mastermind, there are actually many Evil Geniuses. At the start of the game you can choose one of four to be your avatar. From the gold-obsessed Maximilian to the metal-armed Russian General Red Ivan, the geniuses all have the larger-than-life international crime syndicate boss look and feel. You can also recruit “henchmen,” unique lieutenants with similar powers and Bond villain personas. Lastly, each region of the world has a singular Super Agent who can disrupt your base pretty handily and deliver some of that crucial hero-villain banter.

Technically, each of the Geniuses has their own story, but they all seem to revolve around one thing: constructing a giant doomsday device in their base and using it to conquer the world. Each Genius has their own world-breaking apparatus, though, so you do get a different flavor of mad rise to power with each telling.

Don’t let the vibe check fool you, though. Running a criminal organization gets complicated. A fully operational base has a lot of moving parts: You need a power plant, a vault to store your gold (villains prefer gold), and a lab to research upgrades. You also need minions to handle all these jobs, so they’ll need living quarters, a mess hall, and a break room for video games, among other things. Lastly, you also have to run a casino as your front business to keep your island lair secret.

Though literally putting the base together is easy–everything’s drag and drop–building a lair effectively requires careful planning. All of the rooms need to be built small at first, but with room for expansion as your organization grows. Every part of the base requires resources from other parts–electricity, various minions to handle different jobs, money–and some of those resources, like workers with advanced jobs, take time to build. There’s a dance to scaling up the right pieces by the right amount at the right time without experiencing any workflow hiccups, like losing power to the whole base or finding your security cameras are unmanned because you don’t have enough guards. It doesn’t feel like it most of the time, but the base should take care of itself if you build it well and don’t overload it.

In fact, it has to: Other than using the Genius and their lieutenants, you cannot control the individual workers. You can prioritize certain types of jobs, but that requires wading through an unwieldy menu. You are truly a manager, here, not an omnipotent control. (This is best expressed by the Geniuses, who can all use an ability to yell and force the minions in their immediate vicinity to work faster.) That can be frustrating at times, like when a guard leaves their post when you know an intruder is coming or when a technician chooses to repair a trap instead of a power generator when both are on fire. It makes the small hiccups feel more frustrating than large problems because you lack control. On the one hand, the machine will almost always correct those kinds of small problems on their own, but on the other, it’s hard to meticulously watch every aspect of your base and see that it doesn’t work perfectly all the time.

Gallery

Then again, the base is only part of your operation, so you have plenty of things to distract you from those problems. To make story progress and earn most of your money, you need to send your minions out into the world to run “schemes.” Schemes are a meta-game–they’re timed. For example, you send three workers to Western Europe, and over the next 30 minutes they’ll make you $20,000. When you send minions out into the world, they don’t come back after finishing a task, so you need a constant flow of new workers to train, maintain the base, and send out when the time is right. And, again, there’s a knack for knowing how many minions you can send out before it starts to impact your base’s operations.

As schemes progress, they draw “heat,” filling a meter that, when filled, can get the job cancelled, limit your earning potential, and potentially trigger a visit from some investigators or a secret agent who can make a mess of your base’s zen-like flow. Heat fills gradually between schemes, too, and only goes down after a lockdown period or if you run a scheme specifically to cool things down. All the same issues with carefully balancing your resources apply: The story will constantly push you to expand the number of networks you have and put more resources into schemes, while also putting in more obstacles. You need to be mindful of which regions can support long-term moneymaking schemes, which ones need to be cooled, and which ones you should simply leave alone. Plus, like construction, there is a gap between the moment you’ve assigned a scheme and when your workers fly to the site. That gap only grows when you load up a bunch of assignments at once, so you really need to be mindful of when you’re clicking on schemes and in what order.

Though you are constantly working–adjusting, tweaking, assigning–Evil Genius 2 rewards patience, arguably above all else. Often, a story-critical scheme you need to accomplish will wind up being guarded or in a region on the world map that’s about to lock down, so the best recourse for you is to simply wait until you have a better chance at success. In building, assigning tasks, and navigating the world map, it rarely pays to force things. That can make the game extremely frustrating when the timing on story objectives doesn’t line up and you’re left having to change course and spend time raising money or sacrifice upgrade progress to prep for an unforeseen new objective.

No Caption Provided

Luckily, the problems can be quite amusing. No matter how well you play, you will inevitably get visitors–investigators, soldiers, and super spies who come to your base looking to cause trouble. Depending on the type, they’ll steal your money, destroy key parts of your base, or just kill everybody, all of which are quite disruptive. When the heat arrives, you have three choices for how to deal with them: You can try to distract them before they reach the base using the trappings of the casino and specialized minions like socialites who chat them up; once they find the base, you have the option to kill or capture them. To prevent intruders from escaping and bringing back more aggressive enemies, you need a security system that can stop the average low-level intruders without your lifting a finger. You need to assign guards and cameras to watch key points, which is completely practical and necessary, but you also have access to wacky traps like killer bee dispensers and poison dart launchers, which are far more amusing. Watching an investigator get caught in a giant bubble or frozen into a giant ice cube as you intended elicits a certain gleeful satisfaction.

While traps are among the most distinctive elements of Evil Genius 2, they’re more amusing than efficient; most slow intruders, but few kill them. Your opponents also level up often and quickly learn to dismantle each level of trap with the push of a button. The most powerful enemies–super agents and crime lords (aka henchmen you haven’t tamed) simply ignore all traps. While they’re fun to fool around with, the traps feel too benign to take center stage in the story. There’s a sandbox mode that lets you build bases with traps without constraints of the story mode, which is great if you love to tinker for tinkering’s sake, but it’s a shame that they don’t fit into the primary game more effectively.

Evil Genius 2 is an intricate game of spinning plates and building, building, building to make the numbers go up smoothly, which manages to capture the spirit of its Bond villain simulator conceit. Though its management gameplay creates momentary frustrations, the tight rapport among all the different elements of the Genius’ organization make for a challenging, long-term management puzzle that requires you to both move quickly and take your time. Plus, you can use a giant magnet to drag your enemies into a flamethrower, which is pretty damn whimsical. You know, in an evil way.

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It Takes Two Review

March 24, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

In It Takes Two, you fight the kind of common, red toolbox that might be sitting in your garage, or your parents’ garage. It’s one of the best boss battles I’ve ever played.

In the level leading up to this, co-op protagonists Cody and May learn to chuck nails and wield a hammer head, respectively. Cody can shoot nails into wooden surfaces; May can use the hammer to swing on those nails. Cody can nail moving platforms in place; May can hop onto those platforms, or wall jump between vertical surfaces that Cody can position via strategic nail shots. Eventually, he gets three nails to throw instead of one, leading to some excitingly frantic platforming.

The boss fight that closes this level uses those abilities in concert. Cody and May stand on a plywood platform, facing off against the toolbox. It can swing at them with bolted on plywood arms, which the duo needs to dodge. To deal any damage, Cody has to pin its long, wooden limb to a wall with his three nails, allowing May to swing over and smack its tinny body. As the fight proceeds, the toolbox shoots nails into the air which hurtle down at the plywood platform, a platform which gradually shrinks as the toolbox uses a handsaw to whittle it down to a nub with strategic cuts.

This whole arc is a virtuosic showcase of what this game does so well. Like developer Hazelight’s previous game, A Way Out, It Takes Two can only be played in co-op, online or local, and success requires teamwork. This level introduces a new tool for each character to use, doles out a wide variety of tasks for you to accomplish with those tools, and then puts it all together in a wildly creative boss battle that forces you to work together to succeed. It’s astoundingly good and the rest of the game maintains a consistently high bar of quality.

It Takes Two is the most creative 3D platformer I’ve played in years, but it builds on well-trod family comedy territory, with a story that marries elements of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! and The Parent Trap. May and Cody are a 30-something couple who just can’t seem to find the time to spend with each other. When they are together, they can’t stop fighting. As the game begins, they sit their preteen daughter Rose down at the kitchen table to tell her they’re getting a divorce. Rose is, understandably, upset. She goes to her room, where she pulls out a pair of dolls: one made of clay, which looks like Cody, and one carved from wood, which resembles May. She cries, and when the tears land on the dolls, the ill-defined kind of magic that animates movies like Freaky Friday and 17 Again springs into action, transforming the flesh and blood May and Cody into their doll doppelgangers.

Their quest to return to their bodies takes them on a journey of personal growth, a story that mostly succeeds. That story is carried by Cody and May, who have a believably real relationship despite the cartoonish premise. The dialogue is often corny, but the voice performances from the two leads is impressively casual. This is some of the most natural-sounding small talk I’ve ever heard in a game. Their rapport helps sell the conceit that this is a couple that love(d?) each other deeply, but just haven’t made time to prioritize each other. There’s warmth here, even when they’re bickering. There’s certainly a naivety to the idea that forcing a couple to spend time together will make them like each other again, but it worked for me here because the problems in May and Cody’s relationship do seem to stem primarily from a lack of time and attention. I never got the sense that they were fundamentally incompatible as a couple, just that they had forgotten why they fell in love.

The game’s biggest problem, meanwhile, is Dr. Hakim, an anthropomorphic relationship advice book guiding the pair to reconciliation. He shows up about once a level to hint at where Cody and May should head next. Hakim heavily plays into the “Latin Lover” trope in a way that is loud, stereotypical and a little offensive. He’s got a thick accent and each time he appears, he’s accompanied by the sound of a strummed guitar and clacking castanets. He’s pretty obnoxious. My wife–who I played the game with for this review–and I took to saying, “Oh, this terrible fellow again,” each time he showed up on our splitscreens.

Cody and May’s journey takes them across a wide variety of levels that wind their way through their home and the yard outside. There’s a garden level, a snowglobe world, a trek through a village of wooden dolls, and many more. At first, these levels seem like semi-realistic recreations of the residential areas in question. But when you find yourself taking a psychedelic joy ride on a koi fish through the hollow trunk of a tree where an army of squirrels is battling a horde of hornets, it becomes crystal clear that It Takes Two is using the suburban setting as a springboard, not a one-to-one inspiration. And it’s all the better for it. Like its deeply boring title, It Takes Two’s setting appears mundane at first blush. But its everyday theme hides a wealth of creativity.

Gallery

Here’s an example from the garden level. Cody and May enter an area and find a large group of moles sleeping. A common household pest, but in their shrunken state, the couple are dwarfed by the creatures. As you approach the restful rodents, a meter appears at the side of the screen indicating how much noise the two of you are making. You crouch to muffle your footsteps, but to get past the creatures, you still need to jump between stones, over the noisy red mulch in between, and manage how loud your landing is. Easy enough.

We made it through this section on the first try and, when I noticed that the noise meter had disappeared, I assumed that this brief, one-off stealth section had come to a close. But then we moved into a second shady area, this one populated by a few dozen more dozing moles and substantially fewer rocks to help traverse the mulch. In this garden section, Cody has temporarily been granted the ability to turn into a plant at certain key moments, and that ability comes into play here. I morphed into moss, moving in time with May’s movements, providing a rolling carpet of greenery to muffle her footsteps as we snuck past the moles. Eventually, we made it to the other side and the coast seemed clear. But then we heard the sound of a stampeding mole in the distance, and the splitscreen perspective merged into one shared screen with the camera in front of us framing a Crash Bandicoot-style run-at-the-camera chase scene. As the chase stretched on, the camera shifted perspectives multiple times, introducing new challenges each time. We escaped down a pit and found another mole who, startled by our appearance, fell on its back, blocking our path downward. So, we ground-pounded the poor creature’s belly until it fell out the bottom and we scrambled through one last bit of sidescrolling. At the end, we found a pair of frogs, saddled up, and hopped on to the next challenge.

This is It Takes Two’s impressive loop. You are constantly doing something new and novel. Each chapter has moments like that moss moment, where the game introduces a new mechanic, briefly iterates on it, and then quickly moves on to something completely different. Most surprisingly, each new mechanic feels good. The game is built around a framework of Ratchet and Clank-style platforming action, merging running and jumping with left trigger, right trigger shooting. But everything that Hazelight has built on top of that structure can change on a dime. You might be holding the right trigger to pilot a flying fidget spinner, or you might be using the same button to cause a plant to grow, creating a bridge for your co-op partner.

The garden section in It Takes Two.
The garden section in It Takes Two.

Hazelight is exclusively interested in making cooperative experiences. Creative Director Josef Fares previously explored familial relationships in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which gave a solo player control of two characters, and odd couple pairings in previous co-op game, A Way Out. It Takes Two, similarly, gives each player one half of a full toolset and forces them to communicate and work together to solve problems. Part of the reason It Takes Two feels satisfying to play is that you constantly get to feel useful, building the set-up for your partner’s mechanical punchline and vice-versa. You are frequently reminded that you are reliant on your co-op partner, providing a pleasing ludonarrative harmony with the game’s story of rediscovering what made a failing relationship work.

It’s impressive stuff. It Takes Two is the best 3D platformer I’ve played since Super Mario Odyssey, and like that game, it has a flair for variety. You may ride a frog or fly a plane with wings made from Cody’s boxers or hack-and-slash through a Diablo-style castle. Despite the downright wild amount of things to do, It Takes Two manages to handle every mechanic well. This is the second release from Hazelight, and while A Way Out had plenty of fans, it seems that it may just take two to make a thing go quite this right.

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Immortals Fenyx Rising: Myths Of The Eastern Realm DLC Review

March 24, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

We don’t see enough Chinese legends and folklore explored in Western games, which is what makes the pitch for Immortals Fenyx Rising‘s second expansion, Myths of the Eastern Realm, so exciting. Developed by Ubisoft Chengdu, the DLC moves Immortals’ open-world structure from Greek to Chinese mythology. But while its open-world fundamentals are still solid, the Chinese mythology that defines its aesthetic is more of a coat of paint than an imaginative look at a new realm.

Myths of the Eastern Realm wastes no time getting you up to speed. After a brief explanation of how chaos threatens to upset the balance of Heaven and Earth and how a mysterious force has wiped out most of the world’s gods, new hero Ku wakes up inside a cave filled with his compatriots, who’ve been turned to stone. The legendary Bu Zhou mountain has erupted and caused the emergence of the Scar, a powerful primordial force reverting the world back into chaos. The premise is almost identical to the base game’s, and that ends up being true of the rest of the expansion: The two new islands that make up the DLC’s Mortal Lands are hard to distinguish from the Golden Isles from the original game, even if the buildings and foliage are pulled from Chinese history.

Immortals Fenyx Rising: Myths of the Eastern Realm DLC captured on PC
Immortals Fenyx Rising: Myths of the Eastern Realm DLC captured on PC

Immortals’ main loop, in which you search for a nearby mountaintop, tag a bunch of icons so they appear on your map, then hunt them down until you decide to progress the story, is identical. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it was a good loop the first time around. But solving a new round of puzzles and checking icons off on a map lost its allure much more quickly in this DLC–Myths of the Eastern Realm just doesn’t have much to keep that loop interesting. Unlocking my glide ability, clearing out vaults (now called gateways), and grappling enemies isn’t as fun because Ku plays exactly like Fenyx, and I’m disappointed he doesn’t have any new abilities that change how you explore or interact with the world a second time through. The fact that your skills are now called the Blades of Huang Di and Pangu’s Strength instead of Ares’ Wrath and Herakles’ Strength does little to hide that.

You do get some new tools to play around with, like blocks that change size when you attack them or rings that act as grapple points to latch onto. They spice up some of the puzzles strewn around the Mortal Lands, but none of them are especially clever, and their novelty wears off quickly. The sizable dungeons from the base game, where these ideas could have been explored in more depth and combined to create a more satisfying set of themed challenges, are also gone, so all the exploring and puzzle-solving feels like an appetizer without a main course.

Combat is also unchanged, and the lack of new options is immediately apparent; there aren’t any new enemies of major challenges to stop you from barreling through combat encounters using whatever tricks you learned in the base game, and a new combo counter that lets you fire off powered-up versions of your special moves isn’t enough to keep things fresh. Unless enemies were guarding a chest (which can’t be opened when enemies are nearby), I didn’t feel compelled to fight monsters at all. Only a couple of new bosses offer up any new tricks, which only reinforces how much regular encounters feel like an afterthought.

Myths of the Eastern Realm’s smaller scale and runtime means the power curve is faster, which helps stave off the feeling that everything’s a little too familiar. You start with most of your moveset unlocked from the get-go, but you have to rebuild your health and stamina by finding Xi Rang and Sky Agate, both of which you find more quickly than the items they replace in the base game, Ambrosia and Light Bolts of Zeus. The faster pacing allows you to get into the action more quickly, and I appreciated that I could explore most of the world early on without worrying about whether I needed to go get a new ability to solve a puzzle or climb a particularly tall mountain.

That faster pacing also means the story doesn’t really have the chance to get off the ground, however. While your main objective is clear, most of the details are rushed and delivered clumsily, making it hard to get invested in what’s happening at any given moment. It’s hard to care about the finer details when the game itself doesn’t seem too interested in them, barreling towards a fairly sudden and unsatisfying conclusion in the last hour.

All the exploring and puzzle-solving feels like an appetizer without a main course.

It’s kind of a shame, too, because the story finds a more appropriate balance between the base game’s lightheartedness and more impactful serious themes. Nuwa, the goddess who created humanity, is much more earnest than her counterpart Zeus, and undercuts exposition with eye-rolling jokes far less often. That earnestness kept me a little more invested in her relationship with Ku; Nuwa is instinctually overprotective of Ku, holding him back to keep him safe and insisting on her solution to problems. The jokes are still hit-or-miss, but the flops are easier to forgive when they’re less frequent. It’s a step in the right direction, but still feels a little empty for how much time you spend in cutscenes.

Myths of the Eastern Realms does what a lot of expansions do: It condenses a larger, more expansive game into something quicker and more approachable. Being able to explore a new area and solve puzzles at a quicker pace can be fun, but without any strong new hooks, it’s too stale to maintain much excitement for long and feels like a wasted opportunity to bring the world of Chinese myth to life.

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Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods Part 2 Review

March 23, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods Part 2 is a workout for your hands.

That isn’t a result of inaccessible controls; with this DLC, id Software has added the option to fully remap console controls. Even with that flexibility, after a few hours with the new DLC expansion to the 2020 shooter, my palms and knuckles begin to ache. I’m playing on PS5, and the DualSense is a beefy controller. The Ancient Gods Part 2 pushes you to use every square inch of it. There are a lot of demons to kill here and with Ancient Gods Part 2, id Software has given us the Doom Slayer’s most expansive arsenal of weapons to do so yet. Far from being just a set of three new levels, Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods Part 2 introduces multiple new enemies, a new traversal mechanic and a new weapon, all of which alter the flow of battle for the better.

I had my frustrations with The Ancient Gods Part 1, most stemming from the introduction of new enemies (like the Blood Maykr and the Turret) that required pinpoint accuracy to eradicate, which had a tendency to slow fights to a crawl. But The Ancient Gods Part 2 thankfully leans back in the other direction. One new addition to the bestiary, the Cursed Prowler, can (as the name suggests) curse you if it manages to land a hit with its projectile attack. To break the curse, you need to kill the Cursed Prowler. Simple enough. But this durable creature can only be killed with a Blood Punch. And, if you don’t have a Blood Punch ready, you’ll need to Glory Kill other monsters to build your meter up. So, instead of rooting you in one spot with your eye to the scope, the Cursed Prowler encourages you to dive into the fray. It can be frustrating to get hit with a curse and begin losing health in the middle of a tough battle, but it’s a change for the better: one toward frenetic movement and away from the occasional aim-down-sights inertia of the first DLC.

The Ancient Gods Part 2 returns to a more frenetic pace after Part 1's more slowed-down combat.
The Ancient Gods Part 2 returns to a more frenetic pace after Part 1’s more slowed-down combat.

Other new enemies similarly keep things moving. The Stone Imp is a variation of the Imp that upgrades the fodder enemy’s defense with a rocky layer of skin. To take it down, you’ll need to bust out the Combat Shotgun’s automatic fire mode and load the Imp’s igneous exterior with shells. Then there’s the Armored Baron which can be taken down quickly with a well-timed, well-aimed blast, or worn down slowly with the Plasma Rifle. There’s the Riot Soldier, whose hefty riot shield means you’ll need to attack from behind. And then there’s the Screecher Zombie, which you need to avoid entirely; kill it and it temporarily boosts the speed and defense of every other enemy in the area. The Ancient Gods Part 2 keeps you dancing, scrambling behind an opponent, strafing around it or guiding other enemies away from it. Where The Ancient Gods Part 1 frequently halted the dance, Ancient Gods Part 2 adds new steps.

With all these moving parts, fights often feel hectic. But The Ancient Gods Part 2 gives you a new weapon to push back and help set the pace. The Sentinel Hammer is an incredibly useful tool for crowd-control–especially when used in concert with ice grenades. The new weapon launches you into the air and brings you crashing down with stupefying force, killing all small enemies and stunning all heavy enemies within a pretty wide radius. It’s great. It allows you to temporarily escape conflict, recalibrate, heal and jump back into the fray. It’s so useful that I wish there was a way to take it back into the original Doom Eternal campaign or the first DLC.

Like the base game and Part 1 before it, The Ancient Gods Part 2’s story is front and center. The sheer number of proper nouns hasn’t changed. But The Ancient Gods Part 2 does have some terrific sights which make the story a little more palatable. You fly on a dragon. You join an all-out war for control of Hell. You beat up an arch demon who looks exactly like the Doom Slayer. Are there lore reasons for all these things? I’m sure. But I ignored that completely and enjoyed the imagery the way you would enjoy set dressing whipping by on a rollercoaster ride.

Gallery

My biggest gripe with The Ancient Gods Part 2 is the very last thing you do before you hit credits. The final boss fight feels like a very intentional troll aimed at critics of the Marauder, the multifaceted warrior enemy who can deal out damage to the Doom Slayer from any distance. It will certainly make Marauder haters who return for this DLC feel justified in that opinion. The final boss is basically a hulked-out version of the base enemy, with the same basic moveset and the ability to summon ghostly versions of the game’s roster of heavy enemies at will. If this boss lands a successful melee attack, the Doom Slayer drops healing orbs which the boss will use to replenish its health. So, you may whittle the boss’ health to nearly zero, but if it lands two melee attacks on you, its health will be topped up all over again. Oh, and did I mention that there are five phases? It’s a grueling, deeply frustrating fight and it left a bitter taste in my mouth as I finished an otherwise great expansion.

That said, id Software has largely toned down The Ancient Gods Part 1’s most annoying excesses with Part 2 and added a new crowd-control weapon that you will miss any time you return to the previous installments. In short, this is the most complete version of Doom Eternal and, aside from a terribly frustrating late-game boss fight, a consistently great note for Eternal to go out on.

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Monster Hunter Rise Review In Progress

March 23, 2021   Addict Gamer   No comments

Editor’s note: At the time of publishing, we still need to play more of Monster Hunter Rise’s multiplayer. This review will remain in progress until we’re able to do that at launch. Stay tuned for the final review in the coming days.

The locations you explore in Monster Hunter Rise have already felt the delicate touch of humanity’s hand. Traditional Japanese torii can be found weaving through mountainside paths, leading to sacred shrines, while decaying temples have been reclaimed by nature as local plant life envelops the aging architecture. Signs of human life can even be found at the base of a raging volcano and in the midst of a flooded forest, where a Mesoamerican-style pyramid dominates the landscape.

If 2018’s Monster Hunter World was all about unearthing a new continent as an intrepid frontiersman, then Rise is a triumphant return to the Old World with valuable lessons learned. An enhanced port of the 3DS title Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate may have already graced the Nintendo Switch, but Rise is the first game in the series built from the ground up for Nintendo’s latest console. As such, Rise closely follows in the footsteps of World while reneging on some of its changes and introducing plenty of new impactful ideas that excellently shift the focus towards the series’ heart-pumping action.

The core Monster Hunter gameplay loop has remained relatively unchanged as you hunt down gargantuan monsters, harvest their materials to craft new weapons and armor, and tackle increasingly tougher foes. World coalesced both the single and multiplayer parts of the experience into one cohesive whole, but Rise reverts back to the old ways by splitting them into disparate Village and Hub quests. Village quests can only be played alone, while Hub quests can still be tackled solo but are designed with multiple players in mind. This isn’t the most welcome setup for newcomers since it isn’t immediately clear which quests progress the story, nor is there any indication of whether or not you should be alternating between both paths. The impact this structure has on the game isn’t as substantial as it initially seems, though. Hunting the same monster multiple times has always been a part of Monster Hunter’s DNA, so repeating the same mission as both a Village and Hub quest is something you would typically seek out anyway.

That’s not to say Rise isn’t approachable in other areas either. There’s a renewed focus on fast-paced action that strikes an impressive balance between being welcoming for newcomers and satisfying for battle-hardened veterans. When entering a location, for example, your trusty pet Cahoot will mark all of the nearby monsters on your map. You won’t immediately know the identity of each one until you’ve already discovered them, but this cuts down on the time it takes to seek out your foe and gets you into the heart of the action much faster. It’s an ideal fit for the Switch’s handheld mode, allowing you to jump in and out of its most thrilling moments without having to engage with the long-winded slog to find and follow a monster’s tracks.

Exploration is still a key part of the experience, even if you know the exact location of your prey. There are plenty of shortcuts and hidden paths to uncover within each location, and the addition of local wildlife–known as Endemic Life–encourages you to seek out every nook and cranny in order to gain the temporary buffs to damage output, stamina regeneration, and so on, that they offer. On the flip side, if you’re not interested in boosting specific stats to get a leg up in battle, you can always ignore the Endemic Life and tailor the challenge to your liking. Rise offers a degree of flexibility in the way you’re able to tackle each monster that goes beyond your choice of weapon and armor.

With that being said, the verticality afforded by the new Wirebug mechanic has the most significant impact on Rise’s exploration. This exciting new tool allows you to zip through the air by utilizing what’s known as Wire-dashing. From here, you can chain moves together, mixing in wall runs with additional Wire-dashes to reach previously unattainable heights and traverse the environment at a rapid pace. The finesse it requires takes some getting used to, and you still need to be shrewd with the Wirebug’s forgiving cooldown to be successful, but it’s an incredibly fun tool to use once you’re comfortable with its demands.

There’s a renewed focus on fast-paced action that strikes an impressive balance between being welcoming for newcomers and satisfying for battle-hardened veterans.

The Wirebug also plays an important role in combat, as each of Rise’s 14 signature weapons has its own Silkbind attacks. These unique moves are relatively easy to pull off and range from a timing-based counter with the Long Sword to an uppercut leading into an explosive downward strike with the Switch Axe. Each Silkbind attack can be linked into different combos, opening up your repertoire of potential techniques, and the Wirebug expands on this even further with its defensive maneuvers. The evasive Wirefall move, for instance, gives you an opportunity to get back on your feet and avoid a monster’s follow-up attack after being knocked down or pushed back, while the Wire-dash extends the reach of your dodge for when you need to quickly evade a rampaging beast.

Aside from the addition of Silkbind attacks, each of Rise’s weapon types have remarkable depth in keeping with the series’ traditions. Mastering a particular weapon is just as rewarding as before, and there’s also an element of customization available this time around too. The aptly named Switch Skills allow you to swap out certain regular and Silkbind attacks to make a weapon that’s reflective of your play style and preferences. An improved training area, and a reduction in the amount of materials necessary to upgrade a new weapon, also makes this aspect of the game more approachable for newcomers who need to experiment in order to find a weapon type that suits them.

Monster Hunter Rise screenshots via Capcom
Monster Hunter Rise screenshots via Capcom

Stamina and weapon sharpness have also been streamlined thanks to the addition of Palemutes. These new dog-like buddies will help you out in combat and can be decked out with weapons that only add to Rise’s combat depth, and they also act as mounts for you to ride any time you want. Stamina isn’t consumed when you’re on the back of your trusted Palemute, and you can even sharpen your weapon while traversing to give you something productive to do during travel, thus alleviating some of the more time-consuming aspects of Monster Hunter.

There is a basic story that sets all of this up by casting you as Kamura Village’s sole hunter, but the narrative is little more than a paper-thin vehicle for introducing Rise’s new mechanics and game modes. Chief among the latter is the Rampage: a special mission type that requires you to defend a stronghold from waves of ferocious monsters. The Rampage is inspired by Japanese folklore and the Hyakki Yagyō “Night Parade of One Hundred Demons” idiom in particular, which sees an uncontrollable horde of yokai march into our world. In gameplay terms, the Rampage is similar to a tower defense game, tasking you with placing various hunting installations around each stronghold in order to repel the frenzied invaders. Some of these installations are automatic and manned by NPC companions, while others can be manually controlled if you fancy dishing out some damage of your own with ballistas, cannons, and other heavy weaponry.

Rampage quests offer a respite from the usual Monster Hunter formula, delivering histrionic thrills as you find yourself bombarded by multiple monsters at once. There’s some satisfying depth to it as well, with progression rewarding you with more powerful installations and upgraded weapons. You can even jump into the action as you would on any other monster hunt, or lure the enemy to specific points on the battlefield to unleash devastating attacks with powerful installations like the Dragonator and the Splitting Wyvernshot. Completing a Rampage quest will reward you with the usual assortment of monster parts with which to craft weapons and armor, but you’re also incentivized to finish them in order to unlock Defender Tickets. These can be spent on numerous Rampage Skills that permanently boost specific weapons stats such as attack, affinity, and defense.

Monster Hunter Rise screenshots via Capcom
Monster Hunter Rise screenshots via Capcom

Part of what makes the Rampage so exciting is the addition of Wyvern Riding to your offensive arsenal. Monster riding was first introduced in Monster Hunter 4, but it’s had a significant shakeup in Rise. By performing a series of Silkbind and aerial attacks, a monster will enter a mountable state that allows you to hop on their back and go for a ride. You can launch your helpless prey into walls to deal damage and put them in a downed state that leaves them vulnerable for a time, or you can use them as a massive battering ram to attack other monsters. This is a tad cumbersome due to some stiff controls, but being able to ravage the monster you’re hunting with another beast is a singular treat that adds a tinge of kaiju-esque action to the proceedings–not to mention the strategic considerations it introduces to each hunt. Monsters will occasionally bump into each other and fight over territory, but you can also use Wyvern Riding to seek out another monster and force them into a confrontation, creating emergent moments that enhance the game’s core combat.

The monsters themselves consist of fan favorites such as Rathian, Diablos, and Puki-Puki, along with plenty of new monsters and a few surprises. Much like the Rampage, each of the new beasts are inspired by yokai and other legendary creatures from Japanese folklore. The menacing Somnacath, for example, is based on Japanese mermaids, which have the lower body of a fish and the upper body of a demon. It’s a fascinating creature to fight as it moves through the water like a sea otter before putting you to sleep with its siren’s song. Bishaten, on the other hand, is inspired by tengu, presenting an ape-like monster with the face of a crow and a dangerous tail the shape of tengu’s fan. Aside from using its rear appendage to deal damage, the Bishaten also throws large pieces of fruit at you, making it one of the more peculiar monsters in the bestiary.

Going toe-to-toe with these intimidating beasts is the unmistakable core of the Monster Hunter experience, and Rise still feels like a distinctly Monster Hunter game, even if it’s more of a fully-fledged action title than any other entry in the series. This renewed focus doesn’t diminish its layered RPG mechanics, nor does it dumb down on any single aspect of the hunt. Certain changes make Rise a more approachable game for newcomers, but you also have the freedom to tailor the experience to your liking. The moment-to-moment combat is as impeccable as it’s ever been and puts Rise on a pedestal as one of the feathers in the Nintendo Switch’s cap.

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Now Playing: Monster Hunter Rise Review In Progress

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