Tag: review

Banjo-Kazooie Review: It’s In The Nuts And Bolts

My comfort zone when it comes to video games extends to slow games. I like adventure games. I like turn based strategy games [assuming there aren't a billion units]. I like turn based role playing games [assuming there isn't a stupid ton of micromanagement]. So, platformers are generally right out. The speed of a platformer, coupled with the number of enemies and the level of sheer frustration those games can engender just make them not worth my while.

But I've been trying. I most recently beat Evoland 2, a game that takes some inspiration from platformers of the past. I also beat Shovel Knight, again, earlier this year, because I love that game a great deal.

Both these games are great, but they're modern and have modern gamers in mind. Evoland - thoughtfully - saves your progress every time you change scenes. Shovel Knight has a clever, player-directed difficulty setting where you can either break your checkpoints or you can leave them intact, allowing you to make the game incredibly difficult, or just "somewhat challenging."

Banjo-Kazooie, however, comes from a different time. A time when men were men, squirrels could get their own game and you could still get away with making a cutesy, animal-based platformer.

Banjo-Kazooie is this last, a cute, animal-based platformer that doesn't really take itself seriously at all. The plot is pretty simple: Bad witch discovers she's not the nicest looking witch in all the world. A bear by the name of Tooty is. She decides this simply will not do, kidnaps the bear with the intention of swapping bodies and gets caught in the act, red-handed by a mole named Bottles. Bottles yells for Banjo to help his sister, which, basically starts the adventure.

The creepy nature of the plot aside, Banjo-Kazooie is a blast. You start at Banjo's house where Bottles teaches you a couple of moves that you can use to jump, stomp and run through each ensuing level. For the first few worlds, your move set will slowly broaden until you can fly, bomb creatures from the air and run extra fast with the help of a pair of running shoes.

Each world in Banjo-Kazooie is different from the last. In this world, we're in a seaside-adventure sort of place. There are palm trees, beaches and sharks.
A seaside vacation. Hippo optional extra

Each level is a complete little world, with it's own particular perils and theme. In one world, you might be in a winter wonderland, while in another, you may be traversing a scary mansion. No two worlds are ever quite alike. Each has its own [fantastic] musical theme, little character designs that show just enough personality to be memorable [but, given the brief nature of your visits to each, don't get fleshed out overmuch] while never getting in the way of game play or bogging the player down with superfluous fluff.

This particular game comes from an age that incentivized exploration through collectibles. In Banjo-Kazooie, the main "currency" of the game is the musical note. You can pick up 900 of these and each note that you pick up brings you closer to opening sections of Gruntilda's [the witch] lair. At the beginning, you simply need fifty notes to progress, but as the game slowly winds up the difficulty crank, so it expects you to rise to the challenge of collecting ever more notes.

To unlock future worlds, you need puzzle pieces that complete picture frames throughout the lair. Again, starts off simple - you only require one of these to get into Mumbo's Mountain, but by the time the game winds down, you're going to make sure you're scouring levels for as many as you can get. These are - in the game's parlance - Jiggies.

Wozza's jiggy is simple: Just don't be a scary bear.
Two adorable walruses :)

Jiggies are earned through doing a collection of little "quests" throughout the level you're in and these are great. It's a very rewarding way to entice the player through the game. Some are fairly "standard." There's a Jiggy for collecting a "collection" of Jinjo's - little, bird-like creatures that have been scattered throughout the levels by Gruntilda, while others are more esoteric and need far more work. In one of the very last levels, for example, your patience with a young bird [that you hatch, yourself - and then later feed, too] is rewarded when, at last, the bird takes to the skies and reveals the Jiggy it was holding onto for you.

There are other collectibles: extra lives, honeycomb pieces [that extend your life bar] and Mumbo tokens [which allow you to visit the local shaman, Mumbo and be transformed into something native to the world you're in. In one world you might be an ant and in another, you might be an incredibly adorable walrus.] all of which you'll seek out, but the main game requires that you simply collect notes and Jiggies.

Some places are just out-and-out beautiful. Fall in Click-Clock Wood has amber, falling leaves that drift - lazily - from the sky as you play the level. It's incredibly wistful and pleasant.
Fall in Click-Clock Wood. Beautiful and full of hidden nooks and crannies.

And this seeking out is the most fantastic thing about the game. Modern games will hold you by the hand and guide you, step by step through what you need to be doing next. Shovel Knight had the over world. Evoland 2 - while incredibly open in it's second act - still has a structure you can follow. Banjo? If you're smart and wily, you can sequence break - going into worlds that you should only visit further along in the adventure. Likewise, each level is wide open. You can start at any point [for the most part] and collect any Jiggy you choose. [This is almost always true. A couple of worlds force prerequisites on you - Clanker's Cavern has an entire second half that can only be done by doing a very specific Jiggy-related task.]

Before you fight the final battle, you have to do battle of a different sort: on a game show. It is a completely memorable "boss fight."
Did I mention that part of the boss fight is a game show level? It's awesome.

One of Banjo-Kazooie's greatest assets is this variety. You never quite know what you're going to run into while you're playing and this makes it easy to want to play. If there's one thing modern gaming has entirely lost, it's the element of "what's around the next corner" and this particular game has that down to a fine art. Wozza the Walrus won't deal with me if I'm a bear, but how about when I'm a walrus, too? There's this very weird camel guy in Gobi's valley that says all this funny stuff, I wonder if I can get him to move? All these little things add up to make Banjo-Kazooie a joy to play.

But it is not without its faults.

One early move you learn is a maneuver that allows you to toss eggs, but it's never as accurate as you'd like it to be, because 3d gaming was in its infancy and trying to aim your "missiles" so that they did what you wanted could be quite daunting. This is - to a lesser extent - a problem with every move in the game. 3D wasn't a perfected art at this point, so judging distances - especially when you're high up in a level and the prospect of falling is a clear and present danger - could be tricky. One of my single biggest gripes with the control of Banjo-Kazooie was that they didn't just come to a complete stop. Often, if you're running in a direction and you take your hands off the controller, there's a little gap between your action and the action on screen. Essentially, the bear and bird pair will skid to a halt a couple of steps further than you meant for them to be. This can create a weird kind of terrible tension where you absolutely need to stop dead, and sometimes, the game will keep moving you, plummeting you to your doom.

In the same vein, the forced swimming is atrocious. You get "used to it" by the end of the game, but it is difficult to control, has a tendency to make you overshoot your actual goal and drowning is a thing that can really happen.

And when you die...

...Well, I mentioned that this was an old game with an older design paradigm, so when you do kick the bucket, your notes that you collected get revoked. You're forced to re-play that section of the game again to re-acquire all the notes you just lost so that you can beat your "note score" for that world. This can be a frustration at the end-game where the levels get increasingly more difficult and require particular dexterity on your part. [Engine room in Rusty Bucket Bay, I'm looking at you!]

Besides, at least this frustration has been dealt with in the XBox re-issue of the game.[that you can currently snag through the Rare Replay compilation.]

This Xbox version introduces it's own set of frustrations - Motzhand's organ plays exactly the same note regardless of which key you hit while you're working with that particular puzzle. All of the Nintendo branding and shout-outs are gone [this is understandable, but sad] and that special kind of tension where you lose all your notes when you die is gone. [This can swing both ways. On the one hand, the challenge can be interesting. On the other, it can also be particularly frustrating.]

What do I think of Banjo-Kazooie? I think it's absolutely worth experiencing. The current re-release does some things rather differently, but if you've never played it, this would be the place to start. Of course, if you want the original experience, you should attempt to find it for the Nintendo 64.

This is easily, behind The Dig, one of my favourite games this year.

This is a cross-post from Greywolfe's Blog.

Honeycomb image courtesy of Pixabay

Mad Max – A Past Due Review

Mad Max is a fascinating game. It does a lot of great things, some questionable things, and a few things that are not a good fit for everyone. Should you pick it up? Well that’s one of the harder questions to ask as it depends on what type of gamer you are.

But before we can attempt to answer that question we need to carefully explore this game’s various systems. In this Past Due Review we will be exploring animation quality, character and environmental modeling, lighting, particle effects, audio, game mechanics, level design, and more. Every facet of the game will be discussed for at least a paragraph, exploring which sections work well and which ones didn’t survive the wasteland.

Also keep in mind if you're used to expecting a score at the end of a review, you won't find it here. I like to let these different aspects of a game stand on their own. 


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Rocket League: A Past Due Review

So here's the thing. I have had a lot of trouble writing this review. Every time I sit down to write about Rocket League, I gain a very large urge to just pick the game back up and start playing, which is what I've been doing since the game came out. I've actually had to uninstall the game for the time being, just to get this damn review done in a somewhat timely manner and get back to playing this marvel of a game. With that said, if you haven't read a Past Due Review from me before, do not expected a scored review. This is an examination of the game on a component by component basis. Such as, animation quality, modeling, lighting, particle effects, audio, game mechanics, level design, and more.



The biggest reason I decided to study game design was my fascination with the concept of Play. Play is a thing we need to engage in to survive as children, and yet many of us lose sight of the notion of play as we grow older. Play makes us healthy, strong, and causes us to critically think. Many great and innovative games, whether on the field, a computer, or even a board game, show a great understanding of what it means to engage someone in the act of play. Soccer is one such game that has captivated people in play for many years (sorry, but yeah I call it that because Americans taught me a far dumber sport was called football.) And what Psyonix has done with both Rocket League and Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars was give players a brand new way to play the game, simply by altering the way we interact with the ball. In this physics based game the most impressive component is the methods you use to control your Battle-Car. At the end of the day, you only need to make your car hit the ball into the goal, but the character controller for the car gives you so many ways to hit the ball, interact with your opponents, and traverse the environment. The amount of ways you can make your car avatar move will surprise you countless times, but it stays true to the age old concept of easy to learn, hard to master. All while keeping the core concept of play at the center of it all, never letting the player forget about the heart and soul of a game that has reminded me that we all live to play. And play you will. Rocket League doesn’t just create a great experience, it re-creates what it felt like to be 6 years old, playing on the field with your friends in what ever manner it may have been.


 The magic of all this is what Rocket League is able to do to the expectations you have of both the game and yourself. Starting out you may not feel like you can contribute much to the experience, as your skill set improves with time and experience. However, you will start to feel yourself progressing the more you play and learn the eccentricities of the games control method. It reminds me of why I fell in love with DOTA 2. I always felt a sense of progression in what I could accomplish as a player. This is no different than my time spent in Rocket League, and I still know I can dramatically improve with even more practice. Give yourself enough time and effort, and Rocket League will allow you to do some pretty amazing things.


I can not wait to see this game played at an E-Sports level. I can see myself watching professional players play this game maybe as much as I’ll play it. And the methods of play feel dramatically different whether you choose to play the standard 3v3, 1v1, 2v2, or the absolutely hectic 4v4. No matter how you prefer to play you will always be having fun. So rarely have I played a competitive multiplayer game where I never payed attention to the score board. Win or lose, Rocket League always lets me have a blast engaging in my all-time favorite activity, Play.


What I usually get to talk about a lot in these reviews are the animations of the games characters. Well Rocket League doesn’t have any characters in the traditional sense, instead it has cars that do move in a surprisingly animated fashion. Between the jumping, dodging, rolling, boosting, bouncing, and barrel rolling, there are actually a lot of appropriately exaggerated movements in Rocket League.


The animations are subtle but they are there. Sure they’re not the most complicated things to make in the world, seeing as how most of them are just transforms of position and/or rotation, but the speed and motion is fluid. With no strange spikes or wacky jitters anywhere in the movements, ensuring that your vehicle will always be in the exact position you tell it to be in, which is extremely important in a physics based game like this.




The game’s simplicity certainly shows itself in the games various 3D models. They all look absolutely gorgeous from a couch, but up close and personal to your computer monitor, a few things start to look a little cheap. Its not that the models aren’t constructed well, all the geometry seems to fall in the right place and the textures are suitable, but they are just that: suitable. Everything is clean and flawlessly modeled in a very simplistic fashion, yet it's not ever one thing that makes Rocket League's models and art style. It's the composition of all of them in a scene together. Combining all these simple textures and shapes with the best atmospheric effects the Unreal engine can offer, creates a saturated, but not quite cartoony art style that allows every important object to pop out at you. So even though the individual models are nothing to be impressed by, this does keep your attention where it matters without being distracted by anything too detailed.

Again the lighting is also kept quite simple, making sure you are never distracted by what could have easily been quite an eye grabber. The lighting definitely captures the feeling of an arena.


You can see shadows from the rafters below you as your shadow follows your movements along the ground and up the walls, all while the reflective effects on the cars and walls glisten with the warm lighting of the sunset off in the distance.  It's almost a shame that you won’t ever be looking for these things, because you’ll be so immersed in the action around you that the lighting team's hard work just becomes another impressive aspect of the games second nature.

The effect above may be my favorite particle effect of all time. It is certainly my favorite explosion effect hands down, and the expertly crafted tech art doesn’t end there. First off, everything is subtly covered in a Minority Report esque glaze, and it is most notable when the ball is just about to enter a goal and the line it must cross fades into visibility. There are also very subtle particle effects, such as the dust left from your tires when jumping and the clash effect when you trade paint with an opponent racing to block his shot on the goal. When you take into account the number of boost trails you can apply to your Battle-Car, the hard work of the Tech Art team starts to become quite apparent.

The above effect may be my favorite particle effect of all time. It is certainly my favorite explosion effect hands down, and the expertly crafted tech art doesn’t end there. First off, everything is subtly covered in a Minority Report esque glaze, and it is most notable when the ball is just about to enter a goal and the line it must cross fades into visibility. There are also very subtle particle effects, such as the dust left from your tires when jumping and the clash effect when you trade paint with an opponent racing to block his shot on the goal. When you take into account the number of boost trails you can apply to your Battle-Car, the hard work of the Tech Art team starts to become quite apparent.


This is how you do player feedback well. Every bump, slide, boost, jump, crash, and goal is exactly what your imagination expects these colorful and nearly cartoony objects would sound like, and like bees to the hive, the engines buzz around the map, frantically attempting to be the next one who causes the following amazing blast sound.


This consistency with the game’s art style holds true in the games soundtrack as well. The music in the main menu will most likely stick with you for a few hours after playing.


This is where the game’s Achilles' heel resides. At the time of this review there are only a handful of maps that are all basically the same level with different textures and day or night effects. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very masterfully crafted level, but it could begin to get repetitive if more maps weren't on the way. Thankfully though Psyonix has some more maps on the way, the first being my favorite from the previous entry in this series. It is in that game where you can find some examples of the great creativity this level design team can bring to the table, and while I’m glad they seem to be on their way to Rocket League, I wish that at least one of these unique maps was in the standard game.




Menus and sub-menus are presented in clear way that makes sense while navigating. The options screen may even surprise you with the amount of ways you can customize your view and controls, with fully re-bindable keyboard and controller functions. While the PC port of the game runs quite well, there are a few strange quips that can be a bit annoying while navigating the menus with a Mouse. Most button icons will show the PS4 commands and quite a few buttons need to be double clicked while navigating the menu. But the game does control well in matches with either a controller or keyboard and mouse. The only strange thing for me was that the default keybinding is right click to jump and space to view the ball, but with a quick key-rebind I swapped these two and was good to go. The only time the controls are completely broken on PC are in the replay mode. It is nigh-on impossible to navigate as it will always use the max DPI of your mouse, and if you're like me and have an 8200 DPI mouse, accelerating that just makes for a crazy wacky camera.



For those of you who love decking out your car, you’ll have a blast here. You will need to play the game a bit to unlock more options and accessories for your Battle-Car, but there are enough starting choices to make your car your own. Another great example of two incredible parts of the game, show themselves working together very well here. This being the audio and particle effects for the boost trails. There are so many different boost trails and each one of their respected sound effects compliments the effect in the best extent possible.



For all the good I’ve talked about Rocket League, I do have one complaint. If I were to review this game as a sequel charging me $20 for the same shit I got in Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket Powered Battle-Cars, you can bet my tone would be different. So why haven’t I been looking at it that way? After all my girlfriend and I have enjoyed quite a bit of SARPBC and Rocket League is basically a reskin with less maps and a few extra features. Well to be honest, it's because this game is still just as fun. Maybe even more so now that it is much more well known, and those extra features like Seasons and Vehicle Customization do kind of enhance the experience. And I won't lie, I want as many people to experience this game as humanly possible. I have no personal gain in such a goal other than the sheer fact that if one more person gets to feel the same thing I felt when I first made an airborne goal, I’ll have brought a level of joy to someone unlike any other gaming experience. Psyonix deserves praise for their incredibly talented team members, insight into game theory, and heart that they have so celestially celebrated here. I wouldn’t feel rash in debating within my head if this is my game of the year, it's just so hard because I also really like The Witcher 3. But I have no doubts this will end up being my favorite competitive multiplayer game this year, and I have no intention of ridding myself of my addiction to a game that, as I mentioned earlier, allows me to simply play.



Game: Rocket League
Developer: Psyonix
Source: Steam
Special thanks to Fyshokid for the GamePlay Footage!
Audio and Video: Recorded in Game

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Chroma Squad Reviewed

We spent the last few weeks with Chroma Squad and I'm here to tell you what I think of it. Is it a great tactical RPG? Is it a nostalgic turd? Watch the video and continue past the break for details!


Growing up as a young boy in the nineties, there are certain things that I was predestined to like. I liked video games, specifically my Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog, I liked Toonami and my first taste of anime with Dragon Ball Z, and I really liked Saturday morning cartoons. But I loved, I fricken loved, Power Rangers!

I had Power Ranger action figures, video games, even the morphers and the green ranger’s flute dagger. I even have a picture of my younger self in a Power Rangers T-Shirt, sitting in a Walmart photo booth with someone in the shittiest pink Power Ranger costume I have ever seen. I think it was so bad that even back then I recognized it was awful, yet I was so excited it didn’t really matter. Now, I know what you’re all thinking, but back off ladies and gentlemen, this studs taken. Oh, you were wondering what all this rambling has to do with anything? I just wanted you to understand that I am completely impartial and entirely unbiased when it comes to this game.

The game is one of those successful Kickstarters that you hear about. Behold Studios, creators of another love-letter game, Knights of Pen and Paper, asked for $55,000 to fund development and they received over $97,000 from 3,964 backers. They nearly doubled their goal, but fell just short of an episode editor that would have been a huge plus. The game itself is a tactical turn based RPG with management mechanics and if you’re thinking X-Com meets Final Fantasy Tactics then you aren’t too far off. Of course, you’ll always be destined for disappointment until you stop comparing things to X-Com, so let’s just forget that game for now.    The story is every bit as cheesy and fun as the shows it takes inspiration from. It follows a group of stunt men who decide to start up their own sentai show, which means you get to pick nearly every aspect about it. From the name of the show to the phrase your team shouts when they transform, even what they yell when they call their mech. You can also pick the suit colors of your team, allowing you to match up with your favorite Power Rangers season or forge your own route. You can even pick the actors that play each squad member, but sadly that means that you can’t create characters, only pick from a list of pre-made ones that come with specific stats. Your squad will be comprised of a Lead, a Scout, an Assault, a Techie, and a Support who will more often than not be your healer.

There is more customization for each class in a very simple, very shallow talent tree. You can also equip new armor and weapons that will change the look of your squaddies, which is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand it keeps their look from getting stale and shows growth through the seasons. On the other hand if you find a style you like for your squad you’ll end up having to ditch it before too long in favor of gear with better stats. Additionally you’ll rarely have the entire crew in the same set of gear, due to differing stat requirements, which means your squad will rarely look like a cohesive team during combat.

Speaking of combat, it’s where you’ll spend the majority of your time with Chroma Squad. It’s mostly a simple affair with each unit getting one movement and one attack per turn. The number of tiles a unit can move in a turn is determined by your movement rate stat and this means your scout will be running circles around the map while your techie just...doesn’t. Mine could move around 4 squares per turn, so I focused him on ranged combat.

You’ll move each of your units and use their skills, both default and those chosen from the talent tree, and finally end your turn allowing the enemy to do the same. This could easily become rote and boring, but thankfully Behold Studios did a few things to keep it interesting. The first is the teamwork feature where, instead of attacking, you can end a units turn by putting them in teamwork mode. This allows them to boost friendly units to extend their movement range, and I always felt awesome having my entire team flip off of one of my squaddies to surround a bad guy.

If you attack an enemy unit, any friendly units in range that are set in teamwork mode will also join in the attack. If you get five squaddies to all attack one enemy like this then you’ll get a group finisher with a special little animation. If you get five squaddies to do it with weapons, then you get a weapon specific teamwork finishing move just like on the show! Make sure that it kills the enemy though, as an early finisher that fails to end the fight will see viewers changing the channel.

The above would have made the combat much more fun by itself, but the real standout feature for me was the director’s orders. Essentially they are just optional objectives for each fight, but if you follow them it can make the fights much more difficult and interesting. The orders range from not letting any of your squaddies get knocked out, to my favorite which was to have a specific squaddie hit the boss during every round. This lead to a lot of frantic teamwork throws and last minute attacks that barely worked and it was a lot of fun.

Sadly the director’s orders are usually very simple and repeated often, which lessens their appeal after a while. That of course is not the only area of the game that let me down as it does have a fair few bugs. Nothing game breaking, but more annoying bugs, the kind that make you think you have something crawling on you long after you’ve killed it. The worst of these was an issue where tiles would remain highlighted forever, which made it difficult to see if a square was within range of my squaddie without clicking and committing to the move.

Another area of Chroma Squad that really let me down was the crafting. Crafting allows you to make equivalent gear to what you would buy in the store, but the drops needed are rare and you can’t make gear for every type of stat you would want. You can purchase more materials for in game cash, but the mats you get are random. You can also break down old items for materials, but again it is random and it is entirely possible to break down a valuable item and get nothing for it.

The frustrations with the crafting system are only compounded by the fact that it’s the only way to upgrade your mech. It’s confusing because the whole system feels very much like an iOS money trap, but it’s not and it never was. I can’t imagine why they went this route as it is easily one of the least enjoyable aspects of the entire game.

Speaking of mechs though, of course there are moments where you summon your giant robot and fight an equally giant monster. The fights are turned based and focused on percentages for attack, miss rate and block. If you attack and miss an enemy, your turn ends and the enemy gets a chance to attack. These battles start off extremely boring after the initial badass mech excitement, but eventually as you gain more abilities for it the mech battles become a welcome change of pace from the normal combat.

Outside of combat you also need to manage your studio. You’ll be able to upgrade things like the quality of your green screen, your lighting, or even your catering table. The only effect this has is on the stats of your characters or your audience level, but it’s a nice addition. Speaking of audience, depending on your stats you’ll gain a certain amount of money and fans per episode based on the shows audience level. You need fans to increase your initial audience per show as well as to keep your show from being cancelled entirely.

You can boost your audience and several other aspects by hiring one of several advertising agencies ranging from a legit company to a guy with a blog in his basement. It’s not as deep as I would like, but you could say that about the entire game actually.

That’s not to say I didn’t like the game though, far from it. It’s an incredibly fun game that I had a blast with. For fans of Power Rangers I give Chroma Squad a 4 out of 5. For everyone else it’s a 3.5 out of 5.

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Second Opinion – Batman: Arkham Knight

First things first: My time in Gotham was powered by a Playstation 4. The experience was smooth with no crashes and only slight frame rate drops during driving. The PC version however is still a mess and Warner Brothers should be ashamed of themselves for delivering such a product. 

This is it: the final chapter in Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham series. It is bigger, darker and more complex than any previous entry, but is it a better game for it? After all, I personally enjoyed the less open, more guided experience of the original Arkham Asylum more than the open world of Arkham City.
Before we delve deeper into Arkham Knight however, heed this warning: The following words include a major spoiler for Arkham City and you would be well served to play the previous games in the franchise. They’ve aged well enough and this one does not bother too much with explaining certain basic concepts of the Arkham style gameplay. The game starts you with most of your gadgets and combat moves from Arkham City, delivering a strategically deep experience from the get go. It works great for returning players, but you might have a harder time if this is your first time under the Bat-cowl and Bat-cape.

You may be not allowed to text and drive, but nobody said anything about Skype.
How do you make a good Batman: Arkham game without The Joker? You don’t. In fact, the biggest smile in the universe is the first thing that greets you and although it isn’t exactly the liveliest, you know, with the Joker being dead and all, this first scene is an outstanding piece of storytelling. There is so much foreshadowing and mystery hidden inside this minute long showcase of intelligent and suspenseful intermedia craftsmanship, that you could easily fill a half hour long discussion with it. The song choice, the interaction, how your mind fills the blanks, the classic Clockwork Orange zoom. It’s a powerful start.The story set-up is easy. After the events of Arkham City and The Jokers death, Gotham experiences a time of calm. In a world of super-villains, this can never be anything other than a deception however and so it comes as no surprise that soon after the game starts, Gotham comes under threat and gets evacuated, leaving us with an empty city as our crime fighting playground.
You weren’t expecting a living and breathing city, did you? If so, you’ll be in for a disappointment. Every now and then you’ll encounter a police car chasing someone, but otherwise it’s mostly thugs and some plants that make up the biological diversity in Gotham. Can’t have Batman accidentally kill some innocent bystander while he travels around in one of the new additions to the game: The Batmobile.

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I'm pretty sure at least 2 people died during this scene ...when I did a burnout on their faces

Behind the chaos stands Scarecrow, acting as the main antagonist, of sorts. His promotion to bad’un #1 didn’t result in a more fleshed out character however. In fact, he feels more shallow than back in the first game and while there are some cool gameplay moments spun from his inclusion, it’s nowhere near as unpredictable as his appearance in Arkham Asylum.
This is not without reason. Scarecrow has two more hidden roles in this story. One becomes very obvious early on through the side effect his fear toxin has on Batman. The second one is to keep you guessing, questioning the “reality” Batman experiences.
In a way, he is acting as a sort of psychiatrist to Batman, and the fact that, despite him being the direct threat to the city, he’s still only a delivery tool for the more intricate bits of story, is a clear testament to the writers understanding of the world and the intelligence that went into crafting this final adventure of Batman. Sadly, this doesn’t help Scarecrow’s underdeveloped character fill the main antagonist shoes and urgency in dealing with him is something that you probably won’t experience much of.

Looks like the Green Arrow started using soldiers as arrows. (Queen Industries is the company run by Oliver Queen, aka. Green Arrow)
And so we set the stage for our second antagonist: The Arkham Knight. Developing a good original villain for such a beloved and long running franchise like Batman is no easy task. Thankfully, the Knight makes the mark, if only on the merit of being believable inside the universe and his potential. Like Scarecrow, he’s a bit flat. Unlike Dr. Crane, his character is shrouded in mystery and as a result doesn’t suffer as much from it.
Still: The reveal of who’s behind the mask? Underwhelming. The person beneath it? No surprise. The timing of the reveal? Not working in its favor. It’s astonishing when you think about how little time the game spends on a character whom it gives three or four boss fights. The Knight is great as a character concept, but there just isn’t a whole lot of character in him at the end of a game that wears his name.

I'm sure some people got a decent sized laugh out of this
The rest of the villain lineup is again diverse, featuring classic Batman characters like the Penguin and Two-Face, previously in the Arkhamverse featured ones like Firefly and Hush, and even Man-Bat gets a bit of screen time. The cast isn’t bad, but their treatment as characters again suffers. Looking for some extended one on one on one time with Two-Face? No luck. Want to explore the Penguins psyche? You’ll probably be better served watching La Marche de l'empereur.
Still, the way they are sewn into the underlying open world game play fabric is to be commended. Every villain serves as a master of ceremonies for a unique set of side missions. Be it stopping Two-Faces goons from robbing banks, incl. an interesting twist on the stealth mechanics, beating up Penguins henchmen with Nightwing, doing some detective work to discover who’s behind a serial murder case, or chasing down Firefly in your Batmobile. All of those do a great job at keeping the game from becoming stale. A special shout-out goes to Hush, who has an amazing role to play in this game, easily beating out everyone else when it comes to twists.

He might be rich, but money can't buy artistic skill. This is not what a Bat looks like, Bruce.
But it’s not all good when it comes to the side missions. While most villains get mission structures that suit their actual role, The Riddler, a character I even enjoy when he’s played by Jim Carrey, now gets to build race tracks for the Batmobile?! What the f***, Rocksteady? You already included Lex Corp. Give them a bigger role and don’t piss on The Riddler this much. He was already busy enough with his trophies, which actually leads us to the next point:
The collectibles? Screw that. Even if we don’t count the over the top amount of Riddler Trophies (and yes, you need to collect all for the complete ending), there are too many watch towers to “climb”, mines to destroy and guarded checkpoints to clear. Even worse: new ones spawn throughout the story and they don’t show up on the map at all unless you’ve found them previously, or the “police” discovered them (which happens about once every full moon or so). It took me about an hour to find the last 2 mines and it was the second worst time I had in the game.

Solution: The number of collectibles in the game
Despite all of this, the open world design works better than it did in Arkham City. It’s still far from perfect, but no longer does the City feel like a fancy traversable mission select screen, linking together separate levels. Instead, it becomes the stage for many meaningful encounters, even serving as an active and competent story teller at times. This is supported by a shift in perspective. Arkham City saw you mostly traveling via the sky, looking down. The inclusion of the Batmobile changes that to the ground level, at least in theory.
Since this is now the third time I mention the Batmobile, maybe it’s time to talk a bit more about it. After all, it’s the biggest addition to the game and the biggest factor of complaint for some that aren’t me. People who clearly don’t have as refined a taste as I do. *cough*Cody*cough*
The Batmobile consists of two flavors put into one sexy package. First off, the traditional role: The Bat-car. It’s fast and gets you around. You’ll need some time until you’ve mastered the steering, but once you do, it’s the fastest option to get from point A to point B. I suspect that Rocksteady is using some sort of guided steering, which makes it feel rather awkward at first, but I never really had any problems with it besides one instance that we’ll discuss shortly. The most offensive thing about it is the engine sound. It’s like a mid 90’s Honda Civic motor stuck into a modern supercar.Depending on controller configuration, pressing/holding a button switches you into mode of operation #2: The Bat-Tank. That thing is a beast …on a vegan diet. Keeping with the spirit of Batman, you are of course not allowed to kill. Thank god the Arkham Knight is so technically advanced and uses remote controlled tank drones. Why he never thought about strapping some goons on those tanks remains a mystery.

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I wonder how Batman would have handled that situation, if he couldn't just blow up the tanks.

Handling is completely different to that of the car, allowing you full movement control on a 2D plane. This not only enables you to master parallel parking and travel safely through trickier parts of the world, but also annihilates any challenge when it comes to tank combat. Whenever the Arkham Knight sends his mechanized forces, you’ll easily strafe out of the very clearly telegraphed attacks. It basically becomes a game of “don’t touch the glowing line”. Dodge, shoot, repeat, use a special ability (insta-kill rockets, EMP, and the drone equivalent of a charm spell).
It’s a fun, mindless, almost zen inducing game play loop every now and then, breaking up the “monotony” of punching bad guys, but tends to outstay its welcome. Especially later on, when you deal with up to 50 enemy tanks, spawning in waves. At this point, it would have needed some deeper mechanics. And don’t get me started on the stupidity of the pseudo-stealth “boss fights” you have with that thing. It’s fun once, not 3 or 4 times.
But that alone possibly can’t be where the frustration about the Batmobile stems from, right? No, most people would probably still be fine with that. The real problem is that it’s everywhere, often feeling shoehorned in. You use the tank for platforming puzzles. Do I need to say more? It also doesn’t help that the worst parts in the game all happen while you are behind the wheel.
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Not sure if Rocksteady planned for things like this, but it's still great if you pull it off.

My $*#& experience was during a main story mission, when you basically use it as driving bait for a giant “worm”. This comes with a change in camera perspective, which completely threw me off, and insta-death. Couple this with atrocious load times, and suddenly your controller morphs into a batarang flying against the wall.
It’s not all bad however. Again, driving works well, the change of perspective is nice (would have loved a real cockpit view though), tank combat is fun every now and then, there are some fun riddles and challenges revolving around it, and you will experience some great scripted and emergent gameplay moments thanks to it.
The rest of the game is everything you’ve loved about Arkham City, but better. The stealth is depper, not only because you get several new tools and traversal options, but also thanks to enemies now using incineration grenades, tracking mines, drones and more. The brawling a bit more diverse, thanks to a couple new units. It’s an evolution of the previous formula, which isn’t taking any risks and doesn’t leave any room for disappointment as a result.
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The FEAR takedowns are new to the series and allow you to take out multiple opponents. Nobody knows how they work, but the guy at the end shows that quantum physics are probably involved somehow.

Personally, I still prefer Asylum’s casual spin on the Metroidvania structure. Pacing and open world aren’t easy to combine. Rocksteady’s remedy comes in the form of story arcs that are almost episodic in nature. Short, sometimes self-contained events, only revealing a tiny bit of the overarching picture. It works at first, easing you into the changed landscape of the now desolate Gotham City, but it completely destroys the impact some of the bigger events in the game have. Events that can’t be finished inside one of those “episodes”. Only once are you not able to complete your secondary missions during a multi-part episode. It completely destroys any feeling of urgency and therefore suspense, and it never really picks up speed until the end of the main story, which it then destroys again by obfuscating your chance for reflection through inserting the equivalent of a fetch quest before the actual credits (and I’m not talking about the Riddler Trophies you need for the full ending).
That end bit however is probably one of the best pieces of Batman fiction ever. Advertisements tell us, Batman: Arkham Knight is about becoming the Bat. It’s not. It’s about understanding the Bat. Understanding what effect he has on his enemies. I can’t go into too much detail without dropping some major spoilers, so let’s just say that I now share a very deep emotional connection with the super-villains of Gotham. I understand their fear, because I’ve experienced it. While most of the game itself may “only” be an improved version of Arkham City with tank sections, this last stretch of the main story, which completely turns the game inside out, makes it an outstanding adventure worth your time.
It’s not the best entry in the series, but still the second best Batman game ever. Full recommendation from me.

For a more in-depth analysis of the gameplay mechanics and an opposite point of view, make sure to hop by Cody’s review.

Batman: Arkham Knight, A Past Due Review

Once again we find ourselves dawning the Cowl to save Gotham from the grasp of another famous Supervillian. This time Scarecrow takes the helm of a plot to cover Gotham in fear, with the aid of the (not so) mysterious Arkham Knight.  Like my previous Past Due Review of the Witcher 3, this review will not be scored but instead cover the game on a component by component basis. Such as, animation quality, character and environmental modeling, lighting, particle effects, audio, game mechanics, level design, and more. Every facet of the game will be discussed for at least a paragraph, exploring which sections work well and which ones are the Batmobile...



Starting off with the best aspect of this game, as well as the other Arkham games, the animation quality in Arkham Knight is superb. Both the combat animations and walk cycles show a great understanding of the animation process with well thought out poses that are strung together through fluid and confident motion. Animations between Batman and the thugs he beats up are hardly ever out of sync, matching up extremely well while keeping the action flowing. We’ll talk a bit more about the team fighting later on, but the if the animations say anything about how well done they are you probably get a good idea of what I’ll have to say about it.
If I have any criticism to offer here, it would have to be that the facial animations can be a bit inconsistent. Selena Kyle, Tim Drake, and Commissioner Gordon for example are great. But the big bats himself along with Scarecrow, the Riddler, and Nightwing look pretty awkward any time they open their mouths. I've got an example below, Light Early Game Spoiler Warning:


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Overall, I would say that the character models work well. But again there are some inconsistencies from model to model. Topology across the board looks great, and I’ve never noticed anything that seems out of place from the games grimy, gritty, and dirty art style in any of the characters. I think what really makes or breaks some of these models though are the textures.

Character Modeling

There are no stand out textures, and none of them seem like they have a very high resolution. I can look past that considering the size of the open world, and characters as a whole are fine. However, every object looks like there is a blur overshadowing that item. While the artists took great pains to make these complicated patterns, they just look washed out if you look at them individually.
I will say though that as a whole, each character is unmistakable, even if you barely know any other Batman villain aside from the Joker. Lack of advanced mapping techniques aside, these characters do look like their iconic comic book counterparts, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters. Even if I wish the enemies didn’t all look the same within their respective groups of enemy types.

Environmental Modeling

I said this back in my Witcher review, but I’ll say it again: Yes, character and environmental modeling are not at all the same thing, and anyone who thinks otherwise can answer to this mother f*****
Another great aspect of these Arkham games has always been the incredible sense of atmosphere their environments are able to create. Arkham Knight is no different in this case, areas themed to their respective supervillains are filled with easter eggs and other tiny little details that act as great flair to the hallways and back alleys of Gotham. Being broken up into island sections, the city itself feels and looks massive, with each island having its own theme that some may find doesn’t quite fit the gothic theme of the city. I personally felt a few areas came off a bit more Blade Runner then they did Batman's home turf. Drones, holograms, giant colorful neon signs, and video billboards just don’t scream Gotham to me. Don’t get me wrong I’m a huge cyberpunk fan, and this kind of environment certainly fits with the Arkham Knight’s heavily Philip K. Dick inspired garb, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it threw people off. Gotham to me means tall and ominous gothic inspired buildings that crawl with character, not smart TV's and sci-fi accessories.
With that said, the environments reflect the kind of Gotham they have built quite well. And keep an eye on those Billboards I mentioned, they deserve a second glance.


What should be the most important element of a game about Batman is sadly one of the worst visual elements of Arkham Knight. Even with brightness turned down as far as possible, the game still comes off way too light. Which is ironic since this is easily the darkest Story of all the Arkham games.
If you darken your monitor or a screenshot, as I have on the right, everything seems to pop a lot more. I know that you need to be able to see what’s going on, but there’s better ways to do that than having a fill light be nearly as bright as your main light source. What I find frustrating is that the lighting team clearly shows great knowledge of what it takes to light a scene well, even sneaking in some sweet looking Rembrandt lighting every now and then. But none of it gets to be celebrated since the shadows are all overpowered by fill or area lights, washing out the all the hard work that they’ve clearly spent a lot of time on.
But again, when you edit the image to appreciate the lighting that is hidden under there, it is done incredibly well. Shadows fall in all the right places, light off in the distance draws the eye across the cities beautiful vistas, and it makes me wish the game looked like the second image below 100% of the time.

Particle Effects

This game’s smoke is easily the best I’ve seen in a game, ever. Everything else just comes off as serviceable in comparison to it. It’s not that the little sparks, or electric charges aren’t great visual effects, but compared to the smoke effects that your Batmobile creates as you peel out into the streets of Gotham you tend to forget other effects are even in the game. And the streaks of rain that move across your cape will draw your eye as you explore the city. The only odd looking effect is one that looks pretty epic at first, but after a few passes over it begins to look fairly phony in comparison to everything around it. I wish I could describe what this effect is in more detail but that would enter heavy spoiler territory, and it’s hard enough to write a review about this game without spoiling anything in the first two paragraphs. But for those of you who have played the game or watched a let’s play I’m sure you can guess what I am talking about by the image on the bottom left.

Audio Effects/Soundtrack

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Once again Rocksteady has provided another rock solid element to Arkham Knight’s utility belt. The audio effects in Arkham Knight are just as solid and meaty as they have been in the past. Punches that land as you bounce from enemy to enemy sound impactful, gadgets from your utility belt each sound uniquely appropriate, and the fluttering noises your cape makes as you glide through Gotham are complemented by the ambient sounds of the city. The voice acting, as I mentioned earlier, can be a bit hit or miss. Some characters sound incredible and their performances match up well with their animations. But others sound awkward, flat, and at times don’t match. Thankfully there are only a few instances of bad dialogue, but when they happen, you will definitely notice them.

The Witcher 3: Past Due Review

Its Been A Long Time..

... since I've played anything with this much heart. Without saying much more it should be clear to most everyone at this point that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is more than worth your money, and more importantly your time. The game has been a remarkable achievement for developer CD Projekt RED, selling 4 Million Copies in just two weeks.  The game is remarkably different from previous titles in the series, both in scale and form. It's main story less linear, it's combat carefully refined, all while staying concise and accessible for newcomers to the series. With it's success has come great review after great review. And instead of repeating what others have said before me, I've decided to take my time and enjoy all that CDPR's first open world has to offer, than carefully examine certain elements on their own merit. This non scored review will explore animation quality, character and environmental modeling, lighting, particle effects, audio, game mechanics, level/world design, story mechanics, leveling systems, and more. All will be given at least a paragraph to discuss what they do well, and where some areas could improve.



I’m going to start off with this section not just because I myself love to animate, but because out of all the reviews I’ve read I have yet to see anyone talk about just how well detailed they are. They all feel, well, animated! What I mean is that so many games these days put realism over just about everything else. And motion capture animation has taken away what Richard Williams said was so important about animation while he was making Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He believed that animation is supposed to show us something we have never seen before, and can’t see everyday, to push the boundaries of what we perceive as normal, and create something that exaggerates and celebrates the world around around us. For me, Motion Capture is the opposite of this, and watching 3D models of people move just like us makes them seem forced and strange, while actually animating the models, moving the hands, arms, legs, and facial features to slightly exaggerate movement can really bring something to life. CD Projekt RED’s animators clearly know this, and even if some mo-cap was used, I would be surprised if it wasn’t used mostly as reference. The way Geralt swings his swords, the lunging movements made by Drowners, or the graceful Sirens flying above, all animate brilliantly within the world, keeping its energy full of life. Tiny little details are even put into motion, such as Geralt pushing the tip of his sheath to make his swords easier to put away.


But what really helps sell these animations are the key poses within them. While the fluidity of the keys that tie these poses together might be a bit too quick for taste, the poses themselves look amazing and are paused upon in just the right amount of time.

Character Modeling


Characters Tend To All Look Quite Different
The 3D character models who inhabit the world in which you will journey through leave little to be desired. While some human faces seem to have been textured better than others, I’ve found it fairly impressive that everyone seems to look fairly different. Sure I’ll run into the occasional duplicate guard, but look closely enough at them and suddenly you start to notice subtle differences in skin tone, nose shapes, all with flawless topology and normal mapping.

Just Little Hints of Stylization
Characters also exhibit slight exaggerations in their posture and proportions, keeping the games art style consistent with the animations. While kept in a grounded realistic tone, character models' features are exaggerated just shy enough to not quite be called cartoony. Just check out Geralt's model on the left, looks a bit feline doesn’t it? Not quite enough for you to call it out, but just enough to make you see him as something other than human, as if the cat eyes weren't a good enough hint. Couple all of the above with incredible texture work for character modeling and in my opinion you have the best looking 3D characters in an open world game.

Texture Work on Clothing is Consistently Impressive

Environmental Modeling

For those of you who read this and think, “Why two sections for modeling? Are these two things really that different?” I will respond with this image:
Anywho, the building/environment models that are within the game are for the most part incredibly well constructed. One thing that you will notice in all areas of the Witcher 3 is its attention to detail. And the environments you’ll explore are no different. Cobwebs and other common household annoyances can be found in the furthest corners of even the most popular taverns within Novigrad. The swamps of Velen crawl around your ankles as bugs wiz past your head and the grass that pokes through the muck glisten with dirt stains. Forests you run through feel unkempt by the touch of man, not fabricated by someone at a computer desk. The composition alone of the vast and awe inspiring cities seem dense and populated. But unlike a lot of cities in open world games they don't stick out like sore thumbs, vegetation that creeps up the city walls makes it feel like the walls have started to mold, instead of just looking like another wall with a bump map.
The world's textures however, don’t help hold this illusion 100% of the time. Occasionally you will run into a texture with a far lower resolution than it’s surrounding models. Just check out the hexagonal log textures on the left side of the image below, see how low resolution they are compared to something like the toxicity effect on Geralt's face? These changes in texture resolution, while not quite abundant, can be a tad distracting at times.
Thankfully none of the issues are as bad as the ones below:
But in the Witcher 3 textures that look great from a far don’t always continue to look amazing up close.
(As we can see above in the log image)And while I would criticize the re-use of many textures, such tactics help keep the games loading times down to the impressive 10~15 seconds that they currently are. But it almost feels cheap to nit pick at smaller texture sizes when I haven’t seen a single N-Gon, inverted normal, or even flicking faces. And to see most graphical errors come down to the technical side of things must mean that the modeling teams did an amazing job at creating a beautiful world.


An aspect of 3D design that many seem to forget about, lighting can make or break a games aesthetic. Two Worlds for example had a few issues aesthetically, but its largest crutch visually was its poor lighting. In the Witcher 3, lighting is not only far from an issue, it’s some of the best I’ve seen in gaming. it’s the kind of lighting that would make Gordon Willis proud and I truly hope that the lighting team on this game is shown more appreciation for the work they have done here. From the light shaft effects that shine through the forests as you gallop through them, to the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the taverns, the lighting and casted shadows greatly reflect the area you find yourself in. I will say the lighting can be a bit too bright around noon on a clear day though, and it can get so bright during this time that it can even wash out the fantastic colors all around you. But this again is a minor complaint about one of the games strongest visual tools.
The sun-rays in particular are done very well, so much so that I have even found myself squinting as I ride Roach towards the sunset. Yes, squinting, I don't know of any games that have made me do that just because of good lighting.  CDPR once again reminds us that they know how to make the most out of good lighting, and what it's respected shadows can provide in contrast to really make characters and objects pop right out of the screen.

Go ahead, lie and tell me you're not squinting.

Particle Effects

The most common particle effects you’ll see will come from the signs you cast as Geralt. These effects do a great job at reflecting the mentioned descriptions of each ability. The particle effects within the environment are also very well animated, continuing to sell the concept of a living world, that would be doing its own thing with or without you there. Blood effects during combat aren’t overly violent, unless you get a dismemberment, but they are a great indicator of a successful attack. The sparks that fly when you  clash swords with an opponent is so visually different for different kinds of enemies. They can stop your attack with swords, rock armor, hardened scales, and then some. Wraiths in particular are a fantastic achievement for the particle effect team, as the lower half of their bodies could have made them extremely disinteresting if a particle effect that looked worse was in its place.

Audio Effects/Soundtrack

Part of what makes the gameplay feels so impactful is it’s incredible use of player feedback. A swing of your sword hitting an enemy has many layers to it. The Animations reacting to the attack, the blood effect indicating a hit, and most importantly, the audio cue in the form of a lovely slash sound. The sound effects that are made by your signs also come to mind as something very well crafted, maybe one or two sound similar to another but not enough to make a huge deal about it. Sounds of the rain and other environmental sounds are another great piece of the Witcher 3's confident puzzle. One of the best things to do in the Witcher is to just take a walk out into the forests, you’ll hear rustling trees and even creatures off in the distance. Maybe you’ll hear some birds chirping occasionally or the ocean off in the distance. The sign great audio design is being able to close your eyes and still know exactly what kind of environment you’re in. Witcher 3 passes that test, with flying colors.
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The soundtrack that plays to your movements on your journey fits every moment very well. And honestly each song is so good on its own that the soundtrack probably needs to be reviewed separately. There is a particular song early on in the game where everything slows down and you get to just listen to a bard's wonderful tune. It is easily one of my favorite moments in the story, and I’ll be humming that song along with many others for quite a while after playing.

Gwent Review

We all know that The Witcher 3 is great, as covered in our Review, but CD Projekt RED took ambition to a new level with it's "Mini" Game Gwent, a Full scale in game collectible Card Game that may end up taking up as much of your time in the world of the Witcher as hunting monsters. 

This unique CCG seems to have a lot of players split down the middle in terms of a level of interest in the game. Either you love Gwent, or you want nothing to do with it. Those of you who love it, you already know why the game is so fun to play. Those of you not quite sold yet, let me tell you a bit more about this surprisingly large mini game as someone who started out hating it.
"Why on earth would you possibly decide the players only draw one hand for the whole match?" 

"I didn’t build a deck to only use 1/3 of it! Wow I can only play one card a turn huh?"

"What a boring piece of crap, wait. What do you mean I lose?" 

"Whatever f*** it, I’m a god damn Witcher for pete’s sake and there's monsters out there to kill!"

Realizing What The Game Really Is

I’ve heard a few similar testimonies like the ones above of  players early encounters with Gwent, and I would be lying if I said they didn’t mirror my own. Which as an aspiring game designer was a very silly and petty thing to do. I should know that simple doesn't always mean bad, and that a game’s surface might not be all there is to it.

Two Jet Fighters Playing Chicken

It wasn’t until I needed to beat an NPC at a game of Gwent that  truly learned how to play the game. Which at its core really isn’t a CCG. It’s core mechanic is that of a game of chicken, where each player does not wish to yield to the other, but horrid occurrences can happen when neither do.
This basic game design model of conflict is what makes the core of Gwent so different from any other CCG, and why each player only gets to draw ten cards. So unless you have cards that let you draw more, you will need to find a way to win 2 out of 3 rounds against your opponent. This can be done in many ways. Such as fishing out the enemies more powerful cards, creating a card advantage by passing early, or countering a pass of your opponent by playing a spy on their board after they yield. It also makes card draw and hand advantage far more important than any other card game. Same goes for board advantage, since you can only play one card a turn, special cards that let you play extra, draw cards, or complement each other are not just an optional gimmick, they are necessary.
Having a deck filled with nothing but high power cards that do nothing mentioned above will not net you wins. You need to find a balance between what kind of deck you’re building, how you will approach the game of chicken because of this, and when the best time to go all in is. Sure you could try to save as many cards as possible for the final round, but you may end up wanted to spend a few cards to take a round from an enemy who passed with only 10 points above you. It's a very interesting way to trade between, board presence, tempo, and card advantage. 

An Example Match

If you'd like take a look at the example match below. It is a turn by turn slideshow of an entire match of Gwent. 
One fairly subjective criticism I could give Gwent is that I personally feel it is a bit of stretch in terms of world lore. Meaning I can't really see a lot of these characters being the "Card Collecting" type. Especially with all the wars and other fairly important matters within the world. Yet I forgive it for not really feeling that cemented since these people do need a way to break out from all of the depressing glum in the story. And this game is just lighthearted and stress free enough to fill my relief gap. That is also its place within the game's mechanics, allowing the player to set their own pace by taking a break from all the killing and enjoy a simple game with great theme music (found below) and its own different sense of wonder. I suppose that may be why they wanted Gwent to feel so out of place from the world, to really let the player experience something completely different from the core game for a few minutes, just before they have to continue their search for the latest monster who's killed another innocent villager. 

If you haven’t found yourself becoming a Gwent enthusiast in the Witcher 3 yet and you like the idea of what I described I implore you to take a chance on it one more time and force yourself to learn all you can as I did. Suddenly your Geralt may just become quite the card collector.
Reviewer: Cody Hall
Game: Gwent
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Source: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Image Source: Macro Business
Gwent Song Video: Arthellinus

Til Morning’s Light Review

WayForward’s newest game was a bit of a surprise to me. At no point did I expect my first iOS game to be a well-crafted homage to the likes of Resident Evil and the soul of “survival horror” games. You assume the role of Erica Page, who’s lucky enough to be locked in a haunted mansion by her “friends” while in search of her long-lost BFF Angie. At least they give her a flashlight. Erica is immediately greeted by the mansion’s otherworldly element and begins her struggle for survival, which entails breaking the mansion’s curse by sunrise and not dying in the process. 

Some areas in the mansion are genuinely creepy.

Maneuvering Erica is simple enough. A tap on the screen and she’ll move to that spot, or drag your finger slightly and she’ll walk in that direction. I won’t lie and say this works better than an analog stick, because it doesn’t, but it is functional and only in rare circumstances was a hindrance. Tapping on applicable objects will initiate interactions such as opening doors, pushing boxes, and pulling levers. Icons for Erica’s inventory, flashlight toggle (which seemingly had no purpose), and map can be found along the right side of the screen. Be prepared to use that map because the mansion is a labyrinth of locked doors and the keys are not universal.

A key for every door and a door for every key.

Each key opens a single locked door much like the GameCube’s Luigi’s Mansion (to which Til Morning’s Light bears a slight resemblance) and you’ll need to engage in a bit of backtracking to enter new rooms. Snuggled in the mansion’s numerous rooms are scattered coins, keys, boxes, switches, a handful of friendly (and some not so friendly) ghosts, and hundreds of monsters. As silly as they look, Erica’s adversaries want to kill her and they will unless she bashes them to pieces with her arsenal comprised entirely of melee weapons.

She's viscous.

Combat is possibly the oddest aspect of the experience. Enemies freely wander the mansion hallways and rooms and colliding Erica with them will initiate a battle much like in a JRPG. Erica doesn’t fight her opponents through menu commands though. Battles consist of a series of onscreen input commands based around taps and swipes. The icons for these commands are much like those found in the rhythm games Elite Beat Agents and Theatrhythm and consist of shrinking circles, bouncing dots, and pulsing lines. The combat is rhythmic but not in relation to the music. Every correct command lands a hit on the enemy and perfectly played battles will end without Erica being attacked. The upper echelon of baddies will occasionally block attacks, but as long as you never miss a command, you will beat your opponent until it dies. Though easy initially, combat becomes increasingly difficult as new potential commands are added to the mix and enemies hit harder when commands are whiffed.

Erica's clothes become torn as the story progresses. A detail I've only seen in high budget AAA games like the Batman Arkham series.

Fire axes, shovels, swords, sledgehammers, fire pokers, meat cleavers, and the like can all be found lying around the house. These blunt implements aren’t just used for combat though, as many have functions that aid exploration. The shovel, for example, can be used to dig up dirt mounds and the fire poker can pull items from fire places. Unfortunately, only one weapon can be carried at a time and the need for specific weapons can lead to lengthy treks to reacquire less common ones.

As cool as this room looks, it is solved by pushing boxes.

Puzzle variety is slightly disappointing as there are numerous box pushing puzzles throughout the experience including several during boss fights (which I found infuriating). There are several puzzles that don’t lean on box pushing and they are a highlight that harken back to survival horror puzzles of antiquity. These unique puzzles are never outright stumpers but require much more thought than placing boxes on pressure plates and replacing levers.


Erica resonated with me in a way that few protagonists do.

Erica’s trip is spurred on by her desire to find the truth about her missing friend (the details of that relationship are notably absent from the game and only found in an audio book on Amazon’s Audible service) but what she ends up finding is a healthy dose of self-confidence. The unfortunate residents she meets on her journey begin to modify her character as she gradually grows from fearful to being feared by her captors. Erica’s banter with the villains and ghosts add a substantial charm to the experience that puts me in the mind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer through the veneer of a Saturday morning cartoon. It's fun and playful, even though it is based largely around death and loss. 

I enjoyed my stay in this particular haunted house and I encourage fans of “traditional survival horror” to at least take a peek inside. They might just find something that has been missing for a long time. 


Images taken using the screenshot function of my iPhone
Game purchased for personal use
Questions or comments? 
I'm always up for discussion in the comments below or on our forum