Author - Judgeman

Sound BlasterX H7 Tournament Edition Headset – A Review

It’s that time of the year again!  It’s the season of new gadgets, peripherals, and hardware that gamers would love to see as gifts.  Today, I am looking at one such beauty, the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset.  With it’s sleek new design, new software to get the most sound out of your games, and can be connected up to multiple devices, the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset may be my new favorite headset for pretty much everything.

Design

The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset has the basic same design as the H7 edition does, but sports a lot more red trim.  The wiring, the inside of the ear cups, and the cable are all red, compared to the stark blackness of the H7.  The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset also features a brushed metal look to the ear cups.  The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset is made up of the same materials as the H7 and is incredibly comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.  The reinforced steel headband and aluminum architecture gives the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset a very solid feel to it, while still maintaining a light weight that does not wear you down.

The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset is also designed with a tilt driver, which creates a mini acoustic chamber within the ear cup.  This really allows the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset to separate sounds in game, to give you a much clearer and crisper sound experience overall.  But what really separates the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset from the original H7 is what’s inside.

Audio Performance

The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset has been completely redesigned to give you a much better audio experience then the H7.  Specifically, the new 50mm FullSpectrum drivers, deliver incredible sound.  Rated at 118dB/mW, the drivers delivers clearer, louder, and more accurate sound production than any other headset that I have used before.

The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset comes with two ways to connect the headset to a device; USB or analog.  In USB mode, the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset uses the X-Plus Sound Signature, which allows you to customize your profile to match the game you are playing, such as Overwatch, DOTA 2, or Call of Duty.  USB mode also allows you to customize your experience by using the BlasterX Acoustic Engine Pro software.  This software allows you to customize your profiles, provides an equalizer, and even has a voice modulator.  Analog mode is designed to be used with your music devices, such as your phone or Ipod.  The analog setup provides a solid, default profile that works great with music.  You are also able to connect your Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset to your Playstation 4 or Xbox One, making this really the only headset you need.

The detachable microphone has also been redesigned.  The microphone picks up your voice and cancels out surrounding noise, so that you can be clearly heard by everyone on the opposite end.  I used the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset for our monthly Dungeons and Dragons game online, and was pleased just how well the microphone worked.

Final Thoughts

The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset is an all-in-one headset that delivers a clear, clean, and crisp auditory experience no matter what you are doing.  With seamless connection between your gaming consoles, audio players, and PC, the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset can be used for everything.  The newly designed aesthetic gives the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset a cleaner look than the previous H7 Headset, and the updated and improved drivers and microphone gives the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset the edge in performance as well.  My only knock on the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset has nothing to do with the headset itself, but more of the way the Xbox One controller was designed.  Unless you have the Elite controller, you will need to buy the Xbox One Stereo Headset Adapter to be able to use the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset on the Xbox One.  Other than that, the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset is an excellent choice for an all-around headset.  The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset is available now for $99.


Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset

(5 out of 5 Stars)


Total War: Warhammer 2 – A Review (PC)

Creative Assembly and Sega have just released their latest game in the Total War series with Total War: Warhammer 2.  Ok so full disclosure here, I have been playing some version of a Warhammer game since the late 80’s and have been in love with the lore and the land ever since.  While I play more Warhammer 40k, there is tons I enjoy from the Warhammer Fantasy setting, from Blood Bowl to their mmorpg, Warhammer Online.  Total War: Warhammer 2 is a turn based and real time strategy game in the Total War scheme, meaning you are dealing with vast armies at your control.  Spending most of the early games on historical battles, the last two Total War games have been set in the Warhammer universe.

Story

Total War: Warhammer 2 is set in four new lands from the Warhammer universe:  Ulthuan, Naggaroth, The Southlands, and Lustria.  The Empire, Greenskins, Dwarves, and Vampires from the last game are no longer options to play, now you choose to play one of 8 campaigns selecting either the High Elves, Dark Elves, Skaven, or the Slaan.  The story changes depending on which lord you choose and what army that lord belongs to, but there is a base story that has set up the conflict in these lands.

A millennia ago, Chaos began to invade the land of Ulthuan and threaten the very existence of the world.  Caledor, with the aid of the Slaan, created a vortex that would help disrupt the Chaos energies and to rid the world of the Daemon legions. However the plan was only partially successful and although Chaos was weakened, it continued to leak into the world. Caledor and the mages  became trapped within the vortex.  There, the mages continued to cast spells keeping Chaos weak and contained to the Chaos Wastes.

In the present day, a comet disrupts the vortex, weakening its hold on Chaos. This is felt by all the races of the land surrounding the vortex, and draws out the High Elves, the Slaan, the Skaven and the Dark Elves.  Each faction has their own plans for the vortex and the Chaos energy trapped within.  Depending on which faction you choose to play, you will either be fighting to preserve the vortex and prevent the spread of Chaos, or fighting to bring the Chaos energy under your control so you may be able to conquer your enemies.

Total War: Warhammer 2 is steeped in Warhammer lore.  The only issue I can see someone having with the story line is not being able to play as your favorite faction.  If you are not into the four factions available in the base game, then I can see it may not be as fun.  However, the storyline is solid and lives up to the great lore that Games Workshop has built around the Warhammer world.  The four factions are fascinating to me, even if they are not my chosen races to play in Warhammer Fantasy.  The High Elves are your typical good faction, the Dark Elves are debase and violent, the Skaven are just fun, and the Slaan are very colorful from an aesthetic point of view.

Game Play

The gameplay of Total War: Warhammer 2 gameplay has some basic mechanics that works for all factions, but also has some unique traits that are only found in the faction that you choose.  The basic game is a combination of turn-based overland mechanics and real time strategy combat mechanics.  In the overland, you will make decisions that affects your faction, move your leader to attempt to intercept forces, and make decisions in terms of army makeup, economy and what to do with prisoners of war.

During combat, Total War: Warhammer 2 plays like a typical real time strategy war game.  You drag to select your troops and right click to move them to secure a section of forest, or to charge into combat.  Of course, there is much more to the game play then that in terms of tactics and strategy.  Your lord is an individual unit that adds combat bonuses to soldiers near him or her.  Depending on the troop type, the troop will react differently in combat and you will need to decide the best way to utilize that unit.  Your units can also retreat or go into a full blown rout if they take too much damage.

In addition to this, each faction has a different and unique gameplay element that occurs in game.  The High Elves have an intrigue element that allows them to influence other factions, economic situations, or diplomatic status.  The Dark Elves love their slaves, and can use these slaves to raise money or build structures.  The Slaan have the geometric web, which helps boost your provincial edicts, this will help keep your armies feed and funded.  Finally, the Skaven relies on food, the more food you have, the better your army is.

Total War: Warhammer 2 is by far my favorite Total War game in the series.  While I initially wasn’t drawn to the four factions, the gameplay of Total War: Warhammer 2 is so refined and complex that I was drawn into the faction and enjoyed every second I spend with the game.  Not that it was easy, my mind still struggles with these types of games.  While I love the Skaven faction personally, I found them the hardest campaign to play.

Aesthetics

The aesthetics of the Warhammer world are well translated over to Total War: Warhammer 2.  The armies are dripping in aesthetic, from the polished armor of the High Elves, to the multi colored plumes of bird feathers on the Slaan.  The cut scenes are not fully animated, they are more like moving paintings then computer generated cut scenes, but the in game visuals are gorgeous.  Add in the vast amounts of individual troops and units that you can have on the battlefield and you will need a pretty beefy PC to keep up with the action.

The voice acting for Total War: Warhammer 2 is also very well done.  The Skaven speak in their typical jitter-speak, fans of the series will understand what I mean by that. The soundtrack is a beautiful thing to listen to and seems to know right when the tense moments happen to kick into high gear.  All in all, Total War: Warhammer 2 is the best sounding and looking game in the Total War franchise to date.

Final Thoughts

Total War: Warhammer 2 is a thing of absolute beauty.  My initial disappointment of having to play one of the four factions that I was not a fan of, quickly disappeared once the game started.  Everything about this game is a hit, from the resource management systems, to the political systems, how you upgrade your armies, and the actual combat.  In trying to find something to critique about Total War: Warhammer 2the only thing that I could come up with is that I wish I wasn’t so damn bad at it.  Even better news is, as I write this review, a free expansion called Mortal Enemies was released today that added over a hundred factions to play as. So even if I did complain about the four races in Total War: Warhammer 2, there is a free expansion that fixes that right up.  Total War: Warhammer 2 is a fantastic game and one of the best that I have played this year.  You owe it to yourself to pick it up.  Total War: Warhammer 2 is available now on Steam for $59.99.


Total War: Warhammer 2 Review Score

(5 out of 5 Stars)


 

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – A Review (PC)

Arkane Studios and Bethesda Softworks have released the latest game in their Dishonored series, with Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.  Designed to bring the “Kaldwin Era”, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is an stand alone game that runs about 8 hours from start to finish.  The decision to make Dishonored: Death of the Outsider a stand alone game and not dlc is in part due to the poor sales of Dishonored 2, which I thought was a great game.  Because of this, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider falls in between a full release and dlc, both in terms of content and price.  Is it worth your time?  Hopefully, I can shed some light on that and help you make up your mind.

Story

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider begins after the events of Dishonored 2, with Emily Kaldwin back in power and restoring the Empire after Delilah’s rule.  You begin as Billie Lurk, former assassin under Daud’s mentorship, who is suffering nightmares about losing her eye and having her armed ruined.  Billie hears news that Daud is being held captive not far from where her ship is docked, and set’s out to face her former mentor.  Daud is being held by a group called the Eyeless, that has found a way to cancel his Void powers.  Once rescued from the Eyeless, Daud asks Billie to help him finish one last job; to kill the Outsider.  Billie agrees to help Daud, and then is visited by the Outsider who replaces her arm and eye with artifacts that imbues Billie with Void powers as well.  Billie then sets out to find a way to kill the Outsider for Daud.

Story wise, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a fitting end to the Kaldwin story line, but a little unsatisfying in the game play department which I will get to in the next section.  The story of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider fits perfectly with the other two games, and brings the last loose end to a nice conclusion.  Seeing Daud and Billie together again, facing off against the Outsider, feels right and proper.  The story is just long enough to make sense and feel right, without having to put more content into the game to push it to a full retail price.  For old players of the Dishonored franchise, this will give you a nice ending to the series and will still leave you wanting more later.  If you are new to the franchise, then this is the worst game to start with.  Pick up Dishonored, then go from there.

Game Play

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider plays mostly the same as the other Dishonored games in the series, but with a few tweeks and changes.  Because this is the third release in the franchise, I’m going to just focus on the changes.  If you want to see how the other games played that came before, check out our reviews of those games.

First huge change in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is the removal of the chaos system.  That’s right, kill away my little psychopaths, kill away!  Killing people no longer causes the game to change and become more chaotic, with more plague rats wandering around.  You still need to worry about combat alerting guards, or corpses being found, but there are really no consequences in subsequent levels if you murder everyone in the room.  I am of two minds with this change.  On one hand, it does really loosen your blade and plays much more like an action game.  On the other hand, yeah it plays like an action game if you don’t care about killing people.  Of course, if you went high chaos in the other games before, then nothing really has changed and you can just keep killing people.

Another big change is that you are awarded all of your powers at once, there is no leveling up in this game.  I have a feeling this had to do with the length of the game, being shorter than the main games there wasn’t time to give you your powers piece by piece.  Billie gets a few new abilities this round, displace and semblance being two of them.  Displace allows you to set a marker in the level, then return to that marker at any time.  This is really handy when things really go downhill fast and you need a quick escape.  Semblance is the more interesting power of the two, it allows you to copy the face of an NPC and disguise yourself.  As you move in disguise, your power will drain.  If you stand still, you can use Semblance indefinitely.

Billie also gets a few new gadgets, some based on former ones that you are used to.  Her hook mine is a fun one to play with, set the mine and wait for your enemy to come near it.  As soon as they do, they are lifted straight up into the air by the mine.  This can be non-lethal if you choose, but setting two mines together will tear your enemy apart.

You can also pick up contracts before you begin a mission.  A contract is an optional objective that you will need to locate and complete to earn extra money.  Contracts vary in difficulty, and add another level of complexity to the mission.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider plays similar enough to make it feel exactly like a Dishonored game, there isn’t anything here that is new and exciting but also nothing here that is terrible or not fun.  I understand the design decisions with the skills, due to the game being about 4 hours shorter than the base game.  Everything here works well, even if removing the chaos system feels weird.  Even as I write this review, I am still not sure how much I miss that system.  Not having it in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider did not hamper my fun or ruin my time with the game at all, but it still feels weird that it was missing.

Aesthetics

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider looks just as good as Dishonored 2 does.  Level design is interesting and we get to see more of the towns we did in previous games.  What is missing visually is the thematic level design that we have seen before.  Again, I attribute this to time in development and the fact that the game is being released at a lower retail price point.  Levels are well designed and interesting, but nothing compared to Jindosh’s mansion in Dishonored 2.

Sound and music are just as solid as ever.  The voice actors all return to complete the series, and the high quality of acting continues in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.  Music design is just as good as it has been in previous games.  Again, nothing new but that is not necessarily a bad thing sometimes.

Final Thoughts

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is an interesting child of the Dishonored franchise, not quite adult to sit at the big table with Dishonored and Dishonored 2, but definitely much more grown up than the DLC releases of those two games.  Ultimately, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider feels more like an extended DLC to Dishonored 2 then it’s own release.  That’s not to say you don’t get your money’s worth.  You get about 8 hours of game play for about $30.  The story finishes the Kaldwin Era storyline quite well, the game play is more of what makes a Dishonored game good, and the game looks fantastic.  You won’t get any type of leveling system, nor will you have any true repercussions for your actions with the removal of the chaos system.  Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is an easy sell to anyone who has played the other two games.  In fact, you probably already have this game by now.  If you have played the previous games, but haven’t pulled the trigger on Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, it really comes down to whether or not you want more Dishonored.  If you do, then this will be a nice additional fix until they decide how they want to move on after finishing the Kaldwin Era story.  Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is available now for $29.99 on Steam.


Dishonored: Death of the Outsider Review Score

(4 out of 5 Stars)


 

Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates – A Preview (PC)

Coin Operated Games is currently finishing up development on their newest title, Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates.  Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates is a role playing game that is set in an alternative New York during the Gilded Age of the United States.  With a release date of Oct. 4, 2017, I take a little look here to see how the development process is shaping up.

The story for Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates begins in 1899, when the coastal cities of the world were completely flooded.  New York was hit hard by the flooding and during the chaos that came after the disaster was split into multiple city-states, including the Mano Nera and the Tammany city-states.  The game properly begins in the year of 1911, with your city-state facing rash food shortages, undrinkable water, and political strife.  You are sent out to find a solution to the water and food shortages and make sure your city-state survives.

Before I get into my time with the story, I do need to address a few things that set me against the game to begin with.  One issue in making a historical game, even one set in an alternative timeline, is that developers usually get their naming wrong.  While choosing the names like Mano Nera and Tammany draws praise from me, calling Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates a “Neo Victorian” game shows where the developers didn’t understand their terminology.  The proper term for the time period the game is set in is the Gilded Age in the United States, or even the Edwardian Era if you wanted to use the British eras.  So, a word to developers in the future, be careful about your naming conventions when creating a historical game, especially if the person writing the preview is a historian.  It’s even harder to swallow when they use the line “we did our research” in their Steam advertising.  It’s the little things that can ruin a story for some.

Coin Operated Games does throw in real world places and people for you to run into, which brings the game back into my good graces.  Many locations are iconic, like the Brooklyn Bridge, but you will also see other places that are not as well know.  Likewise with characters you will run into, that is, if you are familiar with New York in the early 20th century.  The developers even went so far as to add real medicines and tonics from the era, but not all were still in use by 1911.  I know, I know…. Hammering a game on historical accuracy may not be what people care about, especially one that is set in an alternate timeline, but when a developer uses authenticity as a selling point, it sticks out to me.

Game play for Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates is pretty straight forward for an isometric-view role playing game and it plays pretty much as games of the genre do.  You will move around New York in real time, but will be able to pause time to set up your strategies and tactics, then un-pause time to see what transpires.  You begin the game with a tutorial, that allows you to explore the four different character classes in the game, which pretty much the same four classes you are used to in every RPG.  Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates does a good job in getting you up and running, but the user interface can be hard to navigate at times, especially trying to figure out where your next step is to be.

Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates does have some interesting bits that are not found in other games, such as their Nerve System or the lack of cash for vendors.  As your characters become injured or stressed, they become nervous and run the risk of failing their tasks at a higher rate.  Managing this stress through exposure to combat or medicine is crucial for key characters that you need.  Also, using weapons to barter for new weapons was an interesting change.  One that felt more immersive and story driven.

Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates is being advertised as a classic style RPG, which it is.  The game play is solid, even if the story and some historical facts are not.  If you are absolutely interested in a classic style role playing game that is set in an alternate New York, then Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates will be right up your alley.  My hesitancy in recommending this game to everyone looking for the classic RPG experience is that there are far better games out on the market, or even remastered versions of some of the best role playing games to ever be made.  Ultimately, whether Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates is worth your time is up to you, but I will be passing on this one when it’s fully released on October 4th.

Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition – A Review (PC)

Back in the 1990s, I had made the jump from the Nintendo Entertainment System to the Sega Genesis.  I loved my Sega Genesis, and to this day it is still one of my favorite consoles that I have ever owned.  I did own both the major peripherals for the Genesis; the Sega CD and the Sega 32x.  It was the Sega CD that really added more life to my Genesis by showing me just how much better the CD medium was for video games.  One game in particular that I had during this time period ran into a massive amount of controversy, and that is Night Trap.  Screaming Villains have developed and published an anniversary edition for Night Trap, but how does it compare to the original and to today’s standards?

Story

The story of Night Trap is an interesting one.  You are a member of S.C.A.T. (seriously, that’s the acronym they went with), the Sega Control Attack Team, and begin the game by being briefed on your next mission by Lt. Simms.  Simms tells you that S.C.A.T. (chuckle) is investigating the mysterious disappearances of five young girls near the Martin Winery Estate.  These missing girls were last seen staying the night at the Martin Estate with the Martin family, Victor, Sheila, Jeff, Sarah and Tony.  The police have handed the case over to S.C.A.T. (hehe), where Simms identified a series of traps and cameras within the house.  Simms and his team have hacked into this system, and have given access to you.

When the player gains control of the game, there are five more girls heading to the Estate; Kellie, Ashley, Lisa, Cindy and Megan.  Kellie is an undercover agent working for Simms and will be feeding you information as the game goes on.  What S.C.A.T. (tee hee) doesn’t know is that the Estate is filled with Augers, vampiric entities that need blood to survive.  You are to keep tabs on everyone in the house via the camera system, use the traps to protect the girls and trap the Augers, and keep track of the changing security code that is needed to have access to those traps.  The ending is variable, depending on how many and which girls you end up saving, or allowing to die.

Game Play

So, Night Trap really comes down to managing a few systems and watching camera feeds to keep track of where everyone is and what Augers you need to trap.  Using the updated HUD for the re-release (you can change your HUD depending on what version of the game you wish to play), the room cameras will show live feeds of the rooms whenever a character or an Auger enter them.  When the room is dormant, you will just get a standard look of the room.  By clicking on these rooms, the main display will focus in on that room and you will get audio.  This becomes vital in learning which color the security system is currently locked into.  The Martin’s will change the security system at set times, so you must listen in to these conversations to learn what the new color will be, but you will have to wait until the actual system has been changed to use that new color.

The importance of staying up to date on the security system is a vital one, it allows you access to the trap system.  When you have a room focused on and see an Augur, you will have a proximity light that will blink.  Green means no one is near the trap for that room, yellow means they are close, and red is the perfect time to spring that trap.  If you are keyed into the current color system, then the trap is sprung and removes the Augurs from the game, while protecting the girls.  Night Trap does a pretty good job in allowing you to have some time getting used to this system, and won’t throw any girls into danger immediately, but you will need to protect those girls eventually and will need to practice your timing, or you may snag a girl in your trap as well.

Aesthetics

Night Trap was one of the first full motion video game that I can remember playing.  The entire game is produced by using actors and sets, like a television show, but allowed the player to switch scenes via the camera system, and contained alternate scenes, depending on what the player was able to or not able to accomplish.  Night Trap featured a full cast of actors, mostly B movies level individuals, who pretty much acted the entire game poorly.  Dana Plato, who played Kelli, was the biggest start of the bunch having worked on Diff’rent Strokes.  She is the best thing about this game, acting wise, and even then she wasn’t all that good.

Night Trap looks like a bad late 80s sitcom, as seen through the infancy of CD rom video games.  The sets all look like you have seen them before on a television show, and the original video quality was ok at best.  The anniversary edition does a good job in cleaning up the video quality, so it does look better today than it did in 1992.  Night Trap acts as a time capsule to the early 90s, both in video game design, testing out new technologies, and in the aesthetics of the era in terms of houses, clothes, and language.

Controversy

We can’t talk about Night Trap without talking about the congressional hearings on video game violence which took place back in 1993.  Night Trap, along with Midway’s Mortal Kombat, were the two major examples that the government used to talk about the “disturbing” trend of video game violence.  Night Trap was cited for the violence and promoting sexual aggression towards women.   Congressmen Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl led the attack against these games, even though Lieberman himself admitted to never having played Night Trap.  These hearings eventually led to the 1994 decision to institute the ESRB rating system that we have today.

During the first two weeks of the hearings, Night Trap sold 50,000 units before finally being pulled from the shelves at Toys R Us and Kay Bee Toys.  By January of the next year, Sega had pulled Night Trap from the market.  After the controversy subsided, Night Trap has been re-released a multiple of times on the 3DO, Sega 32x, MS DOS, and MAC OS.

Final Thoughts

Night Trap was an okay game back in 1992 that probably would have slipped into forgetfulness if it hadn’t been for the Congressional hearing.  Because of those hearings, Night Trap sold far more copies then it would ever have by itself and drew much more spotlight on a fairly mediocre game.  Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition is nothing short of a collection of everything Night Trap related for those of you that really liked the original game, or are interested in a small piece of video game history.  The game itself is fine, you will have some fun playing it a few times before getting bored with it.  The game does not randomize the rooms or the scenes, so once you’ve memorized the pattern that is it.  The good thing is that this anniversary edition does come with a ton of other things as well, including alternate game modes, deleted scenes, and the documentary about the congressional hearings.  This is a very specific type of game, you either are interested in it or you won’t be.  For me, it’s well worth the $15 price tag to take a small wander down memory lane and see a game that got so much attention during the early 1990s.  The most ironic and funny bit?  It has been rated “T for Teen” by the ESRB today, so I guess it wasn’t as violent as the congressmen thought, eh?  Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition is available now on Steam.


Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition Review Score

(3 out of 5 stars)


 

Foxhole – Early Access Preview (PC)

Canadian developer Clapfoot is bringing a new persistent, World War II-like MMO game to the world, named Foxhole.  Foxhole uses a similar aesthetic, weaponry, and overall feel to the global war that was World War II, without actually using the nations that fought within that war.  While your side may be using weapons that look similar to an MP40 and wear grey fatigues, you are not the German Army.  Instead, players choose to be apart of the conflict by siding with either the Wardens or the Colonials.  So, how good is an MMO, persistent world shooter if it isn’t really a World War II game?  Let’s take a closer look with our preview.

After you have selected your side and have joined the battle, you are dropped into a town controlled by your army to resupply.  Supplies are all player generated, as is materials.  So depending on how hard your side is working to gather supplies and create supplies, you will either have many choices or are running into combat with a handgun and a bandage.  You also have a limited amount you can carry on your person, so don’t hog all the med kits!  If you are carrying too much, you become encumbered and will walk very slowly, making an outstanding target for the snipers on the other side.  This means you will have to set up supply lines, between the front and your base, to carry resources, ammo, weapons, and infantry back and forth.  All of this, requires actual players to do.  There are no computer controlled units anywhere in Foxhole.

Foxhole’s campaign mode sees the conflict rage acros many different maps, where one side has to win the map before the next one unlocks.  Alternately, servers that are not running the Campaign will restart the maps after 24 hours of combat.  The world in Foxhole is persistent and ever changing.  Players that are logged out are still visible in game, but will be shown as sleeping and cannot be interacted with.  A day and a night cycle exists in the world, making for night raids on an enemy town a thing of absolute beauty and terror.  Recon becomes an absolute necessity during these night raids, not just a good idea.  As these wars rage, players can earn commendations by helping their team reach objectives.  These commendations will show that the player is rising in rank and in status on their side of the war.

Foxhole‘s games can handle up to 60 players on a map that will battle for control through a top-down view.  Foxhole looks much more like a strategy game then an action mmo game, but make no mistake your side will need strategy and tactics in order to overcome and win.  What is fantastic about Foxhole, is the narrative that comes out of game play.  There is no narrative here set by the developers, at least not at the time I played the game.  So the stories all come from actually playing the game and the situations that are created.  I had joined a side that was rapidly losing control of a town.  We were constantly being overrun by tanks, with no weaponry to defend ourselves.  The decision came down to detonate all the buildings we had created in town so the enemy did not gain control of them, and fall back to the next village.  This, this right here, is why Foxhole is a blast to play.

The plans for Foxhole sound even more fantastic then what is already in game.  Clapfoot is aiming for games to handle 120 players, with all maps of the world open at once to simulate wars on a scale that I cannot remember ever happening in a video game.  Foxhole’s enjoyment comes from watching your side of players, work very hard together to overcome the other side of combatants.  To organize a push, to see it implemented and to succeed is a great sight!  This is not the game to play the “lone wolf” in.  You will need to gear up, join up, and work together if you want to win.  Even at the version that the game is in, Foxhole is well worth a look.  If Clapfoot can get reach their goals for the game, then Foxtrot will be a “can’t miss” title.  Foxtrot is available now on Steam through Early Access.

Le Tour de France 2017 – A Review (Xbox One)

Ah, early summer!  Trips to the beach, enjoying lazy Sundays by the pool, and, of course, Le Tour de France.  What?  You don’t watch Le Tour de France?!?! The world’s premiere cycling tour that has been going on for the last 114 years?!?!  You are missing out, my friend!  Prior to the actual tour, Cyanide Studios and Focus Home Interactive release their yearly game, and this year we get Le Tour de France 2017.  Similar to the Fifa or Madden series, each year brings new riders, new tweaks to gameplay, and new features, but pretty much the core gameplay remains the same.  While I have been a fan of the Tour for years, this is the first time I have every played Le Tour de France, so I won’t be comparing it to last year’s edition, but really focusing on what is in this year’s version.  Let’s get into the game and see how it shapes up.

Story

Like almost all sports games, Le Tour de France 2017 does not have an actual story line, per se.  You are pretty much just trying to hit your objectives for your team, and win Le Tour.  It’s not that easy though, I’m afraid.  The race stretches over the entire month of July and stretches over 21 stages, across 3 countries, and will travel a distance of 3,500 km.  The race is organized by cycling teams.  Each team has nine riders of differing skill sets.  Like other sports, cyclists has roles and positions that they must play to perfection in order to reach their team’s objectives.  Some riders are better at sprinting, some are better in the mountains, while others are great at protecting their choses rider for the overall victory.  In Le Tour, there are six different objectives that riders can aim for and try to be first in at the end of Le Tour; the Overall Winner, the King of the Mountains, the Sprint Points Champion, the Young Rider, Combative, and Team Classification.

The stages are categorized by what the racers will face that day:  Time Trial, Flat, Mountain, Hilly, or Summit Finish.  Depending on the strengths of the individual team, the team will choose certain stages to really attack on, and try to secure the yellow jersey as the overall leader in Le Tour.  The overall leader is determined by time, so the less time you spend on each stage, the better your chances are for the entire tour.  You can win the entire tour without ever winning an individual stage, as long as you are ahead of everyone based on time.  When you start the tour, you get to pick a team of riders to navigate through the stages, with some teams being much better in stats than others, just like other sports games.

Game Play

Once you have selected your team, or created one using current riders, you are ready to tackle Le Tour de France.  There are a few options of how you can play the game, from playing the entire tour like a campaign, or selecting a particular stage to race.  You can also do it cooperatively, but only on local or split screen.  After a few tutorials on how to ride the bike (do the tutorials, trust me), you are ready to start the tour.  Controlling the bike is actually pretty easy,  considering everything you need to be aware of.  You can speed up or slow down, and have an arrow on the pavement that shows your best trajectory and speed, similar to car racing games.  You also have two meters you need to concern yourself with, one blue and one red.  Both are stamina meters, but the blue is your overall stamina and the red is your sprint stamina.  During the race, these meters can refill by either eating your power gels or by racing tactically (drafting behind riders, stamina management).  This stamina management and refill becomes your biggest concern.  If you run out of stamina, you will “blow up” or be unable to ride efficiently for a while and that will cost you.

The Le Tour de France 2017 is a very tactical game.  Many people will jump right in and think they can just speed their way to victory, however, that is just not true.  Breaking away from the peloton (French word that describes the large group of riders) is a difficult and risky proposition.  You need help to break away, and that group needs to help keep you ahead of the mass of riders that constantly inch closer to you.  Even understanding all of this, I was caught in my first stage of Le Tour, after leading the entire stage.  I could do nothing but helplessly watch as the peloton closed in and finally passed me.  You can order your team riders to perform tactics and help you move through the stage, but if you are out in front in a breakaway, you are alone and without support.

Playing a full stage will take a long time, this is like playing a game of Madden at actual speed.  You have a few options here, you can play the key areas of the stage, play at an increased rate, or just simulate the stage all together.  You can play Le Tour your way.  The riders you race against will also make very tactical decisions, and will try to change positions during the race to keep their target team members in the hunt.

Le Tour de France 2017 feels exactly like the actual tour.  I had to think tactically, reach team objectives and goals, and manage my stamina so I had enough to finish at the end.  After the first two stages, I was able to have the King of the Mountains jersey and was close to leading in the Points Competition, but wasn’t even in the top 10 for the yellow jersey.  While I could beat the A.I. in specific sections, cutting my overall time down to actually threaten for the overall lead was much more difficult.  After Stage 3, I was almost 2 minutes off the lead, which is horrible.  Playing the stage at actual time and distance is the best way to experience Le Tour de France 2017, but will be a long endeavor and should only be tackled by fans of cycling.  Of course, if you’re not a fan of cycling, then Le Tour de France 2017 has nothing to offer you.

Aesthetics

Like other sports games, Le Tour de France 2017 replicates the experience almost perfectly, both visually and auditorily.  Each stage is rendered beautifully, with lovely scenery, excited fans on the road side, and great lighting effects.  Speed effects help you feel the speed of the bikes, which can easily top 40 kmh, and feel the struggle of heading up a category 4 climb.

Audio is mostly just your race manager dictating tactics, or letting you know where everyone is.  The audio is closer to a Nascar game in terms of commentary, you aren’t hearing the television crew comment on the race, but your own team’s audio and commentary.  Ambient audio is perfect and plays it’s role well.

Final Thoughts

Le Tour de France 2017 is a fantastic game and a great representation of the actual Tour.  The only major flaw in Le Tour de France 2017 is it is a niche game.  If you love professional cycling, you will pick this game up, just like the NFL fan with Madden or the EPL fan with FIFA.  If you do not like cycling, then you are not going to buy this game.  Reviews on games like this one are funny things.  If you like it, you already own it and don’t need me to convince you.  If you don’t, then you are not reading this review, since cycling, and won’t buy the game anyway.  For those very few on the fence and need convincing, Le Tour de France 2017 is the best place to get into the franchise, since it is the newest and best.  I would also suggest tuning into the actual Le Tour de France each morning and watch the actual race occur.  They just finished Stage 3 at the time of this writing, so you have plenty of time to get on board!  Le Tour de France 2017 is available now.


 

Le Tour de France 2017 Review Score

(4 out of 5 stars)


 

Outlast 2 Review (PC)

In 2013, Red Barrels released their first survival horror video game, centered around a journalist investigating an insane asylum, called Outlast.  What made Outlast immediately successful was the intense story and game play, where you play a protagonist that cannot fight back so your only options was to run or die.  Pretty soon, the internet was covered in videos showing people playing Outlast, just to capture their reactions and jump scares on camera.  Outlast became known as a good game for a jump scare, but what many people forget is that the game itself had a great story line, an intriguing mystery, and tense moments that really made the player uncomfortable.  Four years later, we finally have a true sequel in the aptly named Outlast 2. Does the sequel live up to the quality of the first game, or does it get crushed in the expectations?  Be warned, I tried to stay as spoiler free as possible, but some of my critiques talk about the story, so proceed at your own risk.

Story

In Outlast 2, you play as Blake Langermann, an investigative journalist and cameraman, who is traveling to Arizona with his wife, Lynn, to investigate the discovery of the body of an unknown girl.  Near the end of the trip, the helicopter carrying Blake, Lynn, and the pilot, crashes.  Blake wakes to find his wife missing and the pilot skinned alive and attached to a tree.  Searching for his missing wife, Blake makes his way towards the town of Temple Gate, which is run by a man named “Papa” Sullivan Knoth and his cult of followers.  Blake learns that Lynn was abducted by this cult, and is pregnant with Knoth claiming the child is the Anti-Christ.  Blake also learns about another group of heretics that is opposed to Knoth’s group and is in open conflict.  Caught between the two rival groups, Blake needs to find Lynn and get her out of the area, while discovering the mysteries of Temple Gate.

Outlast 2 has a sub plot that comes out as hallucinations suffered by Blake.  Blake remembers a traumatic event that occurred while he was attending a religious school, and is centered around the death of a girl he knew, named Jessica.  These hallucinations pop up at certain times during the game, and I kept waiting for a huge pay off at the end where Blake connects this past trauma with the trauma that he is currently experiencing.   Unfortunately, that pay off never comes, and the whole sub plot of Jessica feels like it was only used to pad the length of the game.  The story would have been so much better and stronger if this sub plot was left completely out.

Other then the subplot critique, Outlast 2 has a decent story line, but no where near as strong as the first Outlast.  Miles from the first game had a strong reason to keep filming, he was documenting the horrors in the asylum to expose the events and experiments going on within the walls.  Honestly, what motivation does Blake have to continue to record his events during Outlast 2?  He isn’t hoping to expose Knoth for his crimes, or expose some conspiracy within the town of Temple Gate, he just wants to find his wife and leave.  The use of the camera in Outlast 2 is literally only there to give the player the ability to see in the dark and to listen to voices using the camera’s mic.  So, if you can suspend your disbelief knowing that, then the rest of the story of Outlast 2 works ok, but it isn’t anywhere near as compelling or as strong as the first game.

Game Play

The game play for Outlast 2 is exactly the same as Outlast, with a few new editions.  Like the first game, Blake is completely inept at defending himself from anyone.  Blake can only run and hide under beds, in barrels, in wardrobes, or in pools of water.  Blake must be in worse shape then Miles was, due to the fact that Blake has less stamina and can run for shorter distances then Miles could, so your foes will catch you much quicker in a foot race.

You will need to find batteries, just like the first game, but this time you have access to an inventory screen that allows you to see what’s in your pockets.  You can collect batteries and bandages while exploring the lovely town of Temple Gate, with the batteries recharging your camera and the bandages healing you when you get caught by the inhabitants.  Your camera also has a live mic that now allows you to listen to noises in a particular direction.  When pointed at a noise, you will hear exactly what is being said and where that noise is coming from.  This will help you avoid chance encounters when you cannot see very far in front of you, like while hiding in a corn field.  And yes, corn in Arizona is a thing, I did check on that.

The new additions to Outlast 2 were interesting, but not enough to really separate the game play from the original game for me.  This felt more like I was playing new dlc for Outlast then an actual sequel that took years to develop.  The easiest thing to say here is, if you liked the game play of Outlast then you will like the game play in Outlast 2.  If you are looking for something more, or huge advances in game play, you will be disappointed.

Aesthetics

My main critique in the aesthetics for the Outlast series is simple, you see almost the entire world through the viewfinder of a camera that is equipped with night vision.  Everything is night vision green, or too dark to see what is going on or what the environment looks like.  So, going into Outlast 2, I already had that strike set up for my review and Outlast 2 carried on with that tradition.  Also, the setting in the first Outlast is far creepier, scarier, more intense then the setting in the sequel.  We go from haunting images within an insane asylum, that is overrun by inmates, to a town in rural Arizona run by religious fanatics.  Given the two, I vote for “asylum” being a hell of a lot scarier then “rural town”.  The visuals are exactly the same quality as the first game, with no real improvement.  It works, and it works fine.  Marta is horrific, and is designed perfectly, still have nightmares about her.

Final Thoughts

So, it looks like I hated the game, as I reread through what I’ve written up to this point, and that is far from the actual truth.  I would say that I was disappointed by the sequel, but did not hate it.  For me, sequels should take what was good about the first one, and really build on top of it to become great.  Most sequels fall at this, some fail horribly.  Outlast 2 simply does not improve on the original’s design, and that is ultimately my biggest critique with the game.  Outlast is far creepier and scarier for me, but mostly due to its originality and setting. You know exactly what you will be getting when you load up Outlast 2, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  If you liked the first game, you’ll like the second game.  It is more of the same, and it’s good.  Where Outlast 2 failed to impress me, is that it isn’t different enough from Outlast to become great.  Is that worth condemning an game?  Absolutely not, but it also isn’t worth overly praising a game either.  Outlast 2 is solid, though confusing at times.  Outlast 2 is available now through Steam.


Outlast 2 Review Score

(3 out of 5 stars)


 

The Banner Saga Complete Pack – A Review (Xbox One)

Stoic and Versus Evil have release the Complete Pack of The Banner Saga games onto the Xbox One, in one glorious package.  The Banner Saga Complete Pack includes The Banner SagaThe Banner Saga 2, and Survival Mode.  For those of you that have never played The Banner Saga before, this is the one pack to get.  The Banner Saga began life as an idea from ex-Bioware developers, Alex Thomas, Arnie Jorgensen and John Watson.  The trio took their idea to Kickstarter, and The Banner Saga was quickly funded, drawing in over $700,000.

Story

The Banner Saga takes place in a legendary world that is inspired by Viking legends.  Everything will feel somewhat familiar, and yet completely alien.  The sun has stopped moving in the sky, and perpetual day has set across the land.  Human and massive human like creatures called Varls, are beginning to feel that something is wrong with the world.  You begin play as the Varl Vognir, tasked with escorting Prince Ludin to the Varl capital of Grofheim.   On the way to Grofheim, the caravan runs into an ancient evil called the Dredge.  The Dredge kill many of the caravan, including Vognir, but the caravan finally reaches Grofheim only to find that the capital city has been overrun and destroyed by the Dredge.  This destruction is only the beginning, as reports from all over the Varl homeland come in that the Dredge are destroying cities.  The remnants of the caravan, then join other survivors to help defeat this ancient evil that has crept across the land.

The story for The Banner Saga and The Banner Saga 2 are very viking like in their telling.  The landscape is bleak, the enemy is relentless, and no hero is safe from death.  I would compare it to the feeling one gets from watching the new season of Game of Thrones, but without the sex, backstabbing, and scheming.  I know what you are saying, “but those are the best parts”, but this story feels just as compelling without those bits in it.  I was immediately drawn into the story, completely enthralled by the pacing and storytelling, then was left wanting much more when I finished the first game.  Good thing the sequel is in here too!

Game Play

The game play for The Banner Saga can be divided up into two categories:  combat and not combat.  While not in combat, you are in charge of dialogue options, and a very Oregon Trail-like experience as your caravan moves across the landscape.  Combat is the bread and butter of both games, however, and can be very challenging, even on Easy.

Combat is turn based and set on a grid.  Each combatant will go at different times, and are shown on a queue in the HUD.  Combatants all have their different strengths and weaknesses, as well as different stats.  The Varl are massive and hit like trucks, but are slow and plodding, while the human combatants are much more agile, but more fragile than their Varl counterparts.  The Banner Saga makes combat pretty difficult by having each individual have two stats, one is armor and the other is health and strength combined.   You will have to deplete a target’s armor before having a chance to do any real damage to them.  This means you will have to be strategic with your placement of combatants, and the attacks that they use.  This is not a game that you can rush in and win at.

Combat also adds in a third stat that can be used, that of Willpower.  Willpower becomes that wild card you can use to give yourself an extra boost, whether it’s move one more space, or do a little more damage.  Willpower is limited, so using it becomes very strategic.  Your characters will level up, allowing you to learn new skills and talents.  You can also practice with your heroes in camp, to learn their abilities in combat and see how it actually affects combat.

Your party of heroes can be changed out during the game, and will need to be as characters die.  Decisions and failure in combat will have direct consequences on the rest of your game.  Loose a particular hero early on, and you will have to deal with that absence until you can find a replacement.  Characters can be switched out while in camp, and talents can be selected to give your party a good balance of skills that compliment one another.

Aesthetics

The Banner Saga is visually and musically gorgeous.  The visuals of the game are hand drawn and look like an old style animated movie, like the 1978 release of The Lord of the Rings.  The aesthetic is stylized Viking mythology, so the creatures, villages, and heroes all look like they could be right out of a Viking story, but with a little extra thrown in.  Colors are appropriately muted when they need to be, to continue the feeling of dread that the game presents.

The music of The Banner Saga is fully orchestrated and created by Austin Wintory, the composer of the fantastic score for Journey.  If you have never played Journey, that game had to carry the entire narrative solely based on the musical score, since there was no dialogue at all.  What Wintory brings to The Banner Saga is nothing short of incredible.

Final Thoughts

The Banner Saga is but one step into this fantastic world that you get when you purchase The Banner Saga Complete Pack.  The story is engaging, the aesthetics is incredible, and the game play is challenging and addictive.  Between both games, you are looking at over 30 hours of game play for just the main story line and the extras.  Completionists will be looking at far longer.  While the game is not perfect, it is pretty darn close.  I did find certain sections to slog down for me, and the difficulty curve can come right out of nowhere and smack you in the face.  Other than that, The Banner Saga Complete Pack is most definitely worth picking up.  The Banner Saga Complete Pack is available now on the Xbox Store.


The Banner Saga Complete Pack Review Score

(4 out of 5 Stars)


 

Northgard – A Preview (PC)

Shiro Games has a pretty good game on their hands with Northgard, a viking based real time strategy that is out on early access on Steam.  Those of you out there that have read my reviews in the past, know that I have always struggled with real time strategy games.  I just can’t handle the micromanagement aspect that many of these games require.  While Northgard may feel shallow to the hardcore rts gamer out there, it felt almost perfect to me.  Northgard is still underdevelopment, so what we received was the early access version, and only the skirmish mode was unlocked.  Like many of our other previews, this information is based off of the version that we played, and could change in a later build or even upon release of the full game.  Because only the skirmish mode was unlocked, I’ll have to skip my typical review of the story, and move right into game mechanics.

Game Play

You start a game of Northgard by picking a clan:  Raven, Stag, Goat or Wolf.  Each clan has their own bonuses and advantages, making a game against other clans asymmetrical.  When the game begins, you begin in typical fashion as many other rts games on the market, with a few peons to gather food and a central building.  What makes Northgard immediately different is that your peons will also serve as your Scouts, Warriors, Healers, Traders, etc.  You will select a peon and give that person another job, and they will become that person.  You don’t create more warriors to invade a neighboring section, you assign peons to the warrior job, and then set out to kill your neighbor.  This gives you quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to organizing a work or attack force, but it also means that your resource production will be severely hampered if you suffer major losses in a fight.  To make things even more interesting, your peons can’t be bought, but you gain one every few weeks or so as long as you have enough food and happiness in your village.

Another big change over your typical rts games, is that you have to conquer sections of the world in order to expand your territory.  That means you have to send out a Scout to discover new sections, then pay the expansion cost before you can build your expansion.  Each section also have a building limit, so you will need to constantly expand if you wish to keep on building.  Your workers and military will automatically go about their business and won’t just stand around waiting for you to tell them what to do.  This feature, alone, made me love this game.  The workers will stay in their section, but will continue doing the job you assigned to them.

Northgard also includes a time tracker, that tracks the changing of the seasons.  As winter approaches (brace yourself), your food and wood production decreased while your consumption of these resources increase.  Some years will have harsher winters than others, so you will need to pay attention to what the winter will look like.  This will change how you will behave in September and October.  You might find a new land with some enticing resources, but may not want to expand if it’s October and the winter outlook is particularly harsh this year.

Northgard also let’s you choose your path to victory, which is something that I hadn’t seen in any other rts game before.  Usually, you fight until either you or your opponent is too decimated to continue.  In Northgard, you can still bury many an axe into your opponent’s skull, or you can win by reaching the Trade, Prestige, or Lore Victory requirements.  Each one of these has different requirements for victory, and really allow you to customize how you want to play Northgard.

Closing Thoughts

Northgard is going to be a very good game, once it actually released.  Even in Early Access, Northgard is looking top notch.  With the addition of a single player campaign and multiplayer (both coming soon), Northgard will quickly rise to the top of the current rts games on the marking for people like me.  For the hardcore of you out there, Northgard may not feel as deep as other games on the market, so you may or may not find the game as top notch as I do.  I love how the game allows me to focus on the actual game itself, instead of worrying about what each and every little knucklehead is doing across my land.  Northgard is currently on Steam Early Access for $19.99.