Author - Ripper71

The Crew 2 Review

When I was a kid we took a road trip from southern California to the “Frontier Days” event in Cheyenne, Wyoming and we went up through the northern California/Oregon and a very round about drive through the Western states.  It was a long, sleep deprived trip as full of sights and smells as any of the Vacation movies (we all related to the stinky sock smell).  We even brought a camper shell along for the drive too so that we didn’t have to use hotels rooms along the way.  It was a horror show that there is no way Chevy Chase would have ever survived.  I’m pretty sure the experience drove a wedge between us instead of binding like glue.  I’m pretty sure I remember us giving up on the way back through Arizona, we parked the van at a family member’s house and flew the rest of the way home, the word “divorce” popping out of a mouth or two.  My parents didn’t divorce and though I almost always think about those locations with a touch of anxiety I enjoy games with landmarks on an almost therapeutic level.  With this background, I started my trip into Ubisoft’s new The Crew 2.

There are a few things that are understandably missing from The Crew 2’s map of the Unites States. We don’t want to see every one stoplight town or half empty strip mall victim of economic conditions, everything we see is pretty idealized and not covered in an eternal grime that only our country’s landmarks can really convey.  That’s nice because we don’t play games like this with multiple national treasures in order to know what life is really like there, we play them for an idealized background to show something pretty while we play.  So Mount Rushmore looks like the weather is beautiful, The Golden Gate Bridge isn’t too socked in with fog to see and if you find yourself running a “King Of The Hill” outside of Las Vegas on a track you will see sagebrush and cacti.  Watching a KoTH outside of Vegas though the track was covered in snow which surprised me, though that happens every few years.  It doesn’t make sense for a game to check the weather in a location and supply that in a game but dang wouldn’t that be awesome? I want to see a developer do that now!

But I digress, the important thing is that they knew people would want to race in Vegas and play with vehicles there too.  The thought of getting anywhere with a stock race car in the desert or over landmarks doesn’t seem very likely so this is a good spot to go over the different types and sub types of vehicles.  The types and sub types are Street (street racing, drifting, drag racing, long-distance hypercar racing), Off-road (cross-country rally raid, motocross, loose-surface rally cross), Freestyle (plane aerobatics, jet sprint boating, monster trucking), and Pro (power boating, air racing, touring cars, and grand prix).  Now that is A LOT of types of vehicles, if only one or two of each type were provided the average player would be happy but there are lots of unlocks and between racing and open world playing you really get to run them through the ringer.  In race mode you get to see them as close to reality as possible with maybe a little looseness to the physics here and there.  In race mode this can be seen as one of two things depending on the player, they either see it as a device to allow for more fun play or a weakness in the gameplay.  I keep going back and forth on it since I really like these kind of games but my reflexes aren’t quite what they used to be and if an AI is too hard for me on the first couple tries there is a good chance it will stay that hard, though you will be hard pressed to see me give up.

There are different ways to control one of your vehicles, each one tailored to the designs and desires.  With this in mind I was able to pick up the controls for car racing on the keyboard really fast since it followed most car racing formats.  The same could be said for the style of racing for the boats, it felt like Hydro Thunder all over again and I was more than happy to get behind the wheel of those water skimming demons.  Then comes airplane racing and my first issues with keyboard controls.  I never could master them with a keyboard and I really think this might have been the first sign that this game really is made for a controller even on the PC.  You can do great aereal maneuvers and just as great ground ones no matter what the discipline with your controller so there really didn’t seem much point of using the keyboard unless you want a different challenge.

Speaking of challenges the game does a great job of not just giving you tracks to race on and the open road isn’t just for having fun taking in the city builds it also provides challenges and achievements all over the locations so as to keep you playing in an area even when you feel you have run as good of a race on the local track as you can muster.  Just doing all these things at a beginning level will provide you with easily over 20 hours of playing and that isn’t even giving the full unlocks a shot.  There can be a bit of a grind to get to some unlocks, though the better you get at the vehicles and tracks the easier the grind will be.  Also just driving around areas you stumble upon side quests which give you extra followers and money.

Yes, we did say followers, because the game approaches the underground racing scene as coming above ground as the players try to help legitimize the different racing disciplines across the country.  The idea is the more social media followers you have the better you are known and eventually it won’t be underground anymore.  There are people who are out to fight this, feeling they are able to be underground kings of the sport as long as it never goes into the limelight.  Then there is always money that helps you level by gaining new achievements and winning races so that more people know about you.  There are a lot of unlocks to be had, even more with the Gold Edition.

I felt kind of lucky one of those places is where I live in Las Vegas so I could cruise around stumbling on achievements while seeing how they changed the names of hotels and resorts so that people would still know what it was even though the name wasn’t quite right.  Mandalay Bay is Borneo Cove, Luxor becomes Ramses and so on.  The game even seem to have the same bad driving taxis (I kid, I kid).  I found myself sucked in to just taking in all the beautiful work of the game then suddenly I see another player go flying by on a motorcycle and I am reminded that this is an online game and while I futz around they are setting new stakes to live up to.  I still like driving around though, I kept forgetting what I was doing when I was heading west to see if they put in the World’s Largest  Thermometer because, well, I get a kick out of it.

The game is definitely worth buying if you like any racing games at all since it gives you pretty much any kind you could want.  The biggest question might be whether or now to get the Gold Edition.  Here’s the extras:

Now to me it is definitely worth it with the Gold pack giving you a variety of vehicles across the disciplines but most of all being that it comes with the Season Pass, between that and community maps and challenges this game will constantly be bringing Gold Edition players something new all the time.

You don’t have to be a hardcore racing fan to like The Crew 2 Gold edition, you really don’t even have to like some of the types of racing to do good in the game and progress.  There should be continuous updates and additions both through developers in the Season Pass and through the community which seems very active and excited about the game.  If you can’t win regularly you can still do side missions and stunts to help work your way up and there are some matches that just require you to finish making this game great for the full spectrum of player.

Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con 2018 Wrap-Up

It isn’t a surprise when a comic convention comes along with a boasting name that it has to live up to.  “Greatest”, “American”, “World”, “Phenomenal” and, of course, “Amazing” are just a few of the adjectives used to describe them and, when they are starting out it sometimes just seems like wishful thinking.  Then there is the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con, one that has had every right to boast over the years for the talent and exhibitors it pulls in.

I had recently transplanted myself to the Las Vegas valley when I first heard about Amazing Con during its inaugural year.  I knew better than to be impressed by a convention’s name and to turn a skeptical eye towards the list of expected celebrities because everyone of us has had something come along and at the last minute we go “nah I would rather stay home.”  In the case of Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con though that hardly ever happens, maybe one or two people but usually not the top draws.  It may have something to do with the chance to hang out in Las Vegas with a free room for a weekend, maybe it is because when it comes to people who do the convention circuit there is a certain fraternity getting to see one another again.  It’s not very often that you see people arrive at the bigger conventions here without heading over to another booth to give someone a hug.  The time I saw Stan Lee come over and give Todd McFarland a big hug and smile will be something I remember forever.

Those are the kind of moments you might see at the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con because the convention really is amazing and not only does it draw massive numbers of fans it brings together the industry and I wouldn’t be shocked if many collaborations started at its tables.  The headlining anchor has been year after year Rob Liefeld who brings a level of excited energy that you hardly see in any other human let alone a comic book legend.  He has done so much, starting with comics and pushing properties towards films and television that most people would have burned out long ago but he is still a fanboy when he meets other stars and if you ask him a question it never feels like he is brushing you off. You have his attention and he really wants you to leave the conversation happy.  It may sound like I am gushing a bit about the guy, maybe I am, but few people shine so bright that you find yourself glowing a bit for being around them.

The celebrities are always well rounded, especially when you consider the convention has “comic” in its name.  Movie stars, TV heroes and voice over artists all find a place at the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con.  Charlie Cox, Daredevil in the show by the same name, was the television anchor while Jason David Frank, the Green Power Ranger and all around cool guy plus adrenaline junkie (ask him some time), is another anchor in the sense that he is good about showing up and supporting cons he commits to doing in a big way.  A couple of relative new comers to the Vegas conventions scene were Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead) and Lewis Tan (Shatterstar) of Deadpool fame.  They brought on their fresh look at being movie stars and how that has change things for them at conventions and life in general.

As for comics the convention could have gotten away with calling itself the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Legends Con with the line-up, many of which come back year after year.  Rob Liefeld, Jason Aaron, Tyler Kirkham, and Jim Starlin just to name a few.  Attendance showed that the names were appreciated too since the convention was packed starting Friday and had people still looking around right up until close on Sunday.

It is also nice to say that the non-profits got places at the convention too showing just how much the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con is part of the community.  The United Blood Services had a table and a mobile blood lab, the Critical Care Comics of Las Vegas was there collecting funds to visit children’s critical care wards and deliver comics while in super hero costumes and the Very Awesome Girls were there having a silly game of Family Feud with heroes versus villains while collecting money for charity the whole weekend.

The biggest show of support was in the form of Where We Live, a graphic novel that was on sale throughout the con that donated 100% of it’s proceeds to one of the October 1st shooting charities.  They even had a panel on Sunday where 16 of the over 100 contributors came to tell their experiences and why they chose to contribute to this book which shows the terror and community that the mass shooting brought to our home.

Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con is one of the best comic convention to hit the Vegas Valley every year and one of the top couple to hit the state every year.  While still sore from this one we are already looking forward to next year’s.

2018 Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con Photo Gallery

Wreckfest Review

Wreckfest, a demolition derby game from THQ Nordic and Bugbear, hails from an originally failed crowdfunding a few years ago. Back then, it was labeled with the very peculiar name of “Bugbear’s Next Car Game”.  It that odd moniker for years before finally getting the slightly more descriptive name of Wreckfest. Wreckfest was developed by the makers of Flat Out 1 & 2 as well as the Ridge Racer games, so they know what they’re doing.

Of course, with the name Wreckfest and focus of demotion derbies, the main focus of the game is all about winning races and smashing your opponents out of commission.  When playing the game’s Career or Multiplayer modes, you are expected not just to race well but to try and hit and spin out your opponents.  Depending on the exact game type, there are some cases where the racing seems to take a lead in terms of importance and other times when the destruction and mayhem are the main goals. Game tracks such as the traditional, mud-filled arenas are just designed to have cars smash into one another for a certain amount of time and see who is left standing.  This is the kind of wrecking I grew up with when going to monster truck shows, tractor pulls, and demolition derbies.

However, Wreckfest seems to suffer a slight identity crisis in regards to the smashing aspect. You are expected to place well – even win so you can get points to level and unlock cars. However, the smashing into other vehicles part tends to slow you down and cost you position. So, unless the wolf pack is still fairly tight and you have the leader cars close enough to hit, then you really want to concentrate less on the smashing and more on the racing and doing your best with the road conditions.  Obviously, there is no question about the goal of the game in those previously-mentioned mud arenas where you smash cars or tractors into each other – that’s when Wreckfest truly shines.

Career mode consists of 5 sections starting with the Regional Juniors and ending in the World Masters.  While driving through your career, you earn points which let you unlock the next career phase, vehicles, car upgrades, etc.  In an ever-growing attempt to make the players happy they have recently added a bunch of Ford skins to their lineup of other official skins so that you aren’t playing cars with a knockoff look.  You can change the paint job on your vehicle too to try and have a bit more of your own personal feel.  This is nice though I have already fallen in love with the car that has “THE RIPPER” painted up the side of it for obvious reasons.  I wonder if I can get that paint job on a lawn mower. Speaking of lawn mowers, that is one of the amazing parts of Wreckfest. Charging at the enemy in your own mower while simultaneously trying to hit others and avoid being hit.  They are such small targets (as are you), it is like a lawn mower dogfight.  This is one of the must fun parts of the game and I highly recommend you play it when able.

While the single player career mode is a blast, Multiplayer is also fun.  You can start your own map with your own rules or just check the already established maps for one that fits what you want to do.  Some are just demolition derby arenas, others are just racing. Some are restrictive on rules while others have none.  The real fun is the number of players you can have at one time.  It wasn’t that long ago when we were excited to have 8 vs. 8 teams running around but these online ones can be up to 24 players! Some servers might be set to less, a few were set at 15 players probably to keep lag under control.  If you have a good rig and you are getting good latency then the real fun is in the bigger races where there are that many more players you are racing against.  Some allow for “special cars” which I won’t spoil for you because it’s more fun to discover them and try to get them yourself.

The keyboard control system for Wreckfest is kind of odd, it is done through the up, down, left, and right arrow keys with additional controls at A and Z just to make things kinda weird.  I got used to the controls but it took a while. I did soem matches in Career mode then didn’t save my progress so I could have a fresh start to the mode without the false start of the learning curve.  The game also has built in Xbox 360 controller compatibility and the controls are far more intuitive this way – it is the method I recommend when playing Wreckfest.

Wreckfest’s graphics are really nice – you recognize the vehicles and when they take damage and start to shed parts in a very realistic way.  Besides that, there is great attention to detail paid to the various tracks and arenas you cruise around on. The game’s audio is great with lots of crunching noises to go around. Also, Wreckfest has a ton of replayability when it comes to taking on your friends, the online community with their leader boards, or just playing through career mode in a different way.

Wreckfest may have been a bit slow making it on to the scene, which probably worried a lot of players, but now that it is done the game is pretty polished and a lot of fun to play.  There are still regular hot fixes to get the bugs out that usually don’t get noticed until the game is launched with a large population but that’s par for the course. IN short: Buy Wreckfest – it’s fun!

Lust for Darkness Review

I have been looking forward to Lust For Darkness for a bit with its trailer presenting an adult-themed puzzle game.  I have been playing puzzle games for a really long time, including such famous older ones like Myst from 1993 with its breathtaking graphics. In recent years there has been a surge in video games with adult or explicit themes. Games like Grand Theft Auto V and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt have very mature storylines.  Movie Games new Lust for Darkness is a puzzle game aimed at a mature audience, bringing us a dark, sexual world that feels like a combination between Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Sam Mendes’ American Beauty, but in a sort of Lovecraftian setting.  When you consider how wide of a berth those three descriptions are you get an idea of where Lust for Darkness treads.

Lust for Darkness starts out with a woman in a sealed room with a note waiting for her telling her someone has spirited her away and locked her in, but it only takes looking at the other item on the desk to get a key and leave the room.  You are in a basement, first person point of view, and everything is lit by little tea candles on the floor.  There are a couple little puzzles to do then you find yourself in a room with sex machines, artificial male genitals, a ball gag and masks. Masks tend to be an important theme in the game much like in Eyes Wide Shut. If you are a fan of Lovecraftian worlds, this game really brings the atmosphere of a Cthulhu setting home as the robed people aren’t just in it for the sex (though they certainly don’t shy away from it either).  Idolatry is really the moving purpose of the game and it becomes fairly self evident by the bronze statues and elements throughout the game.  Yes, you have puzzles to solve but most serve a purpose to drive the story forward rather than just having a random puzzle to be solved and increase the play time of the game.  There are actually not that many puzzles to solve if you just want to finish the game’s main story. However, if you want a richer experience by doing the side stories your game experience will be much longer.

A few days ago the developers put out a note to the community addressing concerns brought up by players who review the game for Steam and the chief concern was the length of the game. However, the playtime stats referenced by the devs showed that most players hadn’t done the side missions.  If you search around for side stories the game length gets longer really quick and the motivations of some of the characters come into light.  If a player wants to just see how fast they can blow through it, they should realize that they aren’t getting the full game experience.

The game has both really nice graphics as well as musical score, both of which help create the Lovecraftian horror as well as the adult/sexual situations.  Lots of detail work has been done on the idols, masks, and horror elements but a little less detail in the sexual participants – though it is always quite obvious what sex act is being performed (and any “toys” used are detailed as well).

The biggest drawback to the game I saw was that there were no manual player save points, the only game saves are when the game loads a new section.  After it loads and you hit continue that will be your save spot until the next continue.  This can be a little frustrating to discover if you play pretty far past the save spot and go to quit game you will lose all the progress you gained.  Basically each time a continue comes up you need to be sure you can either play until the next one or can leave the game open on your desktop while you do whatever life throws at you.

The subject does come up of whether the sexual situations seemed gratuitous or an important part of the storyline.  It could be argued either way but I think when it comes to the plot it makes sense to have these adult elements just as much as it made sense in the previously-mentioned Eyes Wide Shut. Without these elements, the story wouldn’t be the same and Lust for Darkness should be commended for how well it weaves them into the story.  It shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone either since it was funded on Kickstarter and was the last ever Steam Project Green Light. Also, in the game’s description it lets you know it is adult themed and even their gameplay examples made it really obvious.  I think the only surprise to me was that one of the platforms it is coming out on is the Nintendo Switch, which is in general considered the family, kid-friendly system.

Lust for Darkness is a fun game that you really should play in darkness with a headset on so you can get the full effect of its dark world.  The game can be fairly short but the price is also fairly inexpensive and the developers have already been talking about putting out possible additions on it to explain the mysterious ending more and well as explaining some of the mystery in the harder side missions.  Lust for Darkness is an adult-themed Lovecraftian horror story told in a puzzling mystery style that will keep you guessing even after the game is over…

Memories of Mars Early Access Preview

When I saw Memories of Mars coming down the pipe, I was hoping I would get the opportunity to play it.  Memories of Mars looked like a combination of a FPS and a building survival game that borrowed its feel and graphic styles from games like Halo and Mass Effect Andromeda, both of which I have played like crazy. Luckily I got my hands on the game’s Early Access build so that I could get a true feel for the game without having to wait until official drop.

When you first show up on Mars though you are running around picking up ore and raiding any buildings you can find for ore, parts and schematics.  You start with an empty gun and though you really don’t have to worry about players killing you to start off you do have to worry about robot spiders, robotic sand worms and other such AI creatures.  Until you get some ammo you can fist punch but that is not much of a comfort.  The moment you can make bullets you’ll want to, but first you must find the 3D printer and that machine is the cornerstone of early survival.  If you pay attention before exiting the cloning center you can find a portable 3D printer and more can be found through out the world which is nice since if you die everything including what you are wearing and what you are wielding is left on the corpse, there is a good chance that whatever killed you is there protecting your corpse from being recovered.  Or if you are as unlucky as I was another player watched me die at the shots and mechanical claws of spiders then waltzed right in and took all my loot, lots of minerals, med kits, 3D printers and a gun with bullets.  That is quite a bit to recover from especially considering that the buildings you raid don’t repopulate their loot just because you die.  If you lose your corpse you just lose those resources.

Once you get the ability to make an ore drill you can start mining all the giant rock piles you see around the world instead of just picking up little rocks here and there.  Scavenging both on the Mars surface and in the abandoned (?) buildings gets a kind of grind feel to it as you collect more and more ore to survive but the more bullets you have and the nicer the gun you upgrade to the happier you will be when a whole bunch of mechanical spiders set their glowing eyes on you.  The problem is the game doesn’t have any training lessons so I had no idea at first I could just use the 3D printer in my inventory to make a gun.  I thought that was something I had to discover the schematics for then go to a 3D printer in a building instead of the one in my inventory.  I happened to ask someone passing by in the world about guns and he said to just make one and the bullets.  All you need are simple resources which is nice since you need a resource for the drill which is harder to come by.  Building at first is also confusing since there seems to be limitations on what you can make and how but it isn’t clearly spelled out.  The game banks on the fact that the player has played open sand box style survival games like Mass Effect Andromeda but have the skills of a FPS like Halo or Destiny, which isn’t an unreasonable assumption but it has its own style of making and building things which could use a little tutorial.  Figuring out how to get aluminum, a key element in crafting, took me quite some time.

“Flops” are what you are looking for above all though.  Flops (or floppy discs) can be found on the corpses of mechanical spiders and other rogue machines as well as found on counters and in storage locations.  The Flops are used to level up skills through out different skill trees that tend to mirror how a player prioritizes their style of play, so one might concentrate on gathering, another might concentrate on healing or another on guns or armor.  Your Flops kinda act as leveling up though how many you get depends on random drops from mechanized corpses as well as finding them in abandoned buildings so they are rewards for scavenging and fighting rather than leveling.  You can even take them off a fellow player’s corpse which happened to me when I was saving up for a really expensive upgrade and died… only to find myself with nothing to show for it after someone raided my corpse along with everything else.

One last note I highly suggest that one of your first unlocks and builds using your Flops is the Excavator which allows you to break down big rocks for nitrate and iron, the key elements in bullets.  Aluminum plays an important part in the game too when it comes to making items but the first thing you want to do is make sure you have a pistol and lots of ammo because the ammo is sub-par and will have you burning through half a clip just taking down one mechanical spider.  There was a misfire element too but they have suspended it at this time of writing since players are having a hard enough time with low damage from it.

Things will no doubt change in Memories of Mars, how it is every day there is a downtime for the server so that bugs, stuck points (of which I found two) and other changes can be made to maximize the experience.  If you are looking forward to a polished, little to no bugs game you probably want to wait for the game to leave Early Access and start going into its persistent world world then you will want to wait for the official release.  If you like to enjoy low populations while you are getting a feel for the game and help the developers know where there are holes in the world or stuck points the time to strike is now.  I actually have had a hard time tearing myself away from the game long enough to write this.  Hope to see you there!

MyCharge Home and Go Pride Limited Edition Review

MyCharge products are everywhere these days – you probably pass people carrying them and haven’t even noticed.  They are in airports and technology vending machines, they are in all kinds of stores. Pretty much anywhere you might think to stop to buy a phone charger they are there, dominating pretty much all other name brands in the market these days.  They already make great products, but their latest limited edition takes it one step further by not just taking care of your cell phone but possibly a teenager/young adult in crisis.

The MyCharge Home and Go has two built-in wall outlet prongs which allow it to charge without a cable or wall adapter but will also charge any device through it by using their SmartSense Technology which is able to identify the device and charge through it, a USB plug cable is required to do this part.  This is incredibly handy during travel since you don’t have to bring one of those clunky wall USB adapters and you just need one cable for the whole weekend.

It then charges up to 25 times faster than the average battery charger getting you back on your device about as fast as you can.  I have walked around conventions before with a MyCharge battery in my bag running out to my iPhone 6+ and while taking pictures and video the phone still charged up faster than I was using it making it so that at the end of the day I still have a full charge.  The Pride Limited Edition is a 4000 amp battery which means you will have a nice charge from it that could charge a dead phone up to 2 times.  Also, the entire MyCharge family of chargers all have great shelf lives so you can have it sit for months then just pick it up and go without worrying about whether or not it is dead.  This is so true that the other day I came across some MyCharge batteries that had been left in one of my wife’s travel purses since last October and one still held a full charge, the other a half charge which might have been from use.  Its slim form also makes it easy to slip into a pocket, backpack or small purse.  The pocket might need to be a little deep for it to stay in safe but it is definitely slim enough for skinny jeans or jean shorts.

My only wish would be for it to have two short charging cables built into it too like some of the MyCharge models.  You can charge a greater variety of devices this way which is a definite plus but when at conventions the less the number of cables you have to corral the better.

The Pride Limited Edition involves a bit extra and it isn’t just the art.  The art is special, with the word LOVE in gold letters and in the middle of the O is a rainbow heart in honor of the LGBTQ community.  This isn’t where it stops though, just the beginning since 5% of all sales from the limited edition charger goes to the Trevor’s Project.

Trevor’s Project is one of the leading national organizations providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people between ages 13-24.

Named after an Academy Award  winning short film Trevor’s Project where a young man is questioning who he is while faking suicides in front of his parents in an attempt to get their attention.  The night it aired on HBO The Trevor Lifeline, 24 hour crisis help was launched and over the years came to include twitter, website and workshops as well.  There have been hundreds of thousands who have called upon Trevor’s Project for help.

Even if you don’t have the time to volunteer for this organization you can help them and help yourself by purchasing the MyCharge Home And Go Pride Limited Edition so you can help yourself stay charged, show your support for the LGBTQ community and help make a 5% donation to Trevor’s Project, money will literally be going to help save lives.

Vidar the Vampire Movie Review

I love horror movies and it doesn’t matter if they are subtitled, only if they are good or cheesy good – I like either way.  One of my all time favorite movies is Let the Right One In which was remade in an American version as Let Me In and I prefer the subtitled original since it just felt like it had more heart. It wasn’t as polished but the acting was very believable and touching, which is not something you hear about in a vampire movie usually.  It is something that can be said to a degree about Vidar the Vampire, a coming of age late story that tackles religion as well as affairs of the heart.

We first see Vidar as a teenager, doing farm chores from dawn until dusk literally being woken up by the morning rooster and not too happy about it.  He’s a good boy though and it is what is needed with the only other family member being an invalid mother.  The local girls call him out supposedly to go steady but in fact just to get a reason to make fun of him.  It’s a dull life that doesn’t promise much of a future as we see him going into his 30s, still a virgin and still just working the farm.  He prays to God and Jesus for him to have a sampling of women “twenty plus.”  Antsy afterwards and unable to sleep he sits on the back porch only to see bright light appearing from all of the windows of their barn.  He goes inside and that is when this movie, a rather bizarre tale, actually starts up.

The movie is told kind of like Interview with a Vampire only, instead of being interviewed by a journalist, Vidar is talking to a psychologist instead – knowing his story and life in general are messed up.  It is mostly told in flashbacks with cuts to the present to discuss the questions of sanity and theology that come up throughout the tale, it really is loaded with both.  Unlike in Interview with a Vampire, Vidar’s powers are limited and so it is hard to show the psychologist the truth about him and leaves you at times wondering if you have a faulty narrator, one that believes his story is true when it might just be delusional.  Thankfully they don’t leave that question hanging when the movie ends.

The budget was obviously low but so was the budget for Let the Right One In which shows that a movie can have heart even if it doesn’t have a budget.  The music is particularly interesting too since it sounds like a Norwegian Tom Waits or Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds with folksy tunes filled with deep meaning lyrics.

Vidar the Vampire is not just a dark comedy – it is pretty much a black comedy with much of the humor coming at poor Vidar’s expense and also reminds you about moments in your own life that mirror what Vidar goes through.  It shows that life never turns out quite the way you want it to, even when you get your prayers answered. Vidar the Vampire was directed by Thomas Berg and Fredrik Waldeland and is available now.

They Are Billions Early Access Preview

Games in Steam Early Access always have  to be considered previews because Early Access on Steam is a term that just means the game is not in a beta/soft-launch state.  It’s sort if vague and I have played games where early access meant playing two weeks before the final release and I have played others that have been in that category for years.  There are some games I previewed three years ago that are sill in Early Access.  Luckily, Numantian Games’ They Are Billions they have set a target window of Spring to launch, and they look to keep it!

The game has three parts to it, Survival, Community and Campaign modes.  Survival mode is good to go, all polished up and ready to punish players.  You have a base very similar to StarCraft where you start with the Command Center and build new buildings and unlocking more so that you can create a large town that you then can defend against an outbreak of zombies.  You build walls, hire mercenaries and unlock and build tower defense style buildings that help keep the undead horde at bay.  The whole game is based off of steampunk both in visuals and in gameplay so the play often feels very Protoss in style.  You have to put out energy towers that act just like the pylons do in StarCraft giving power to an area around it allowing you to build.  Every tower needs to be built in the area of a previous tower and if the previous tower loses power so does any that are daisy chained from it.  As a result, if zombies make it through to pylons near the town all your out stretched connections lose power suddenly leaving you with less power, less active buildings including resource gathering ones and defensive towers.  This can lead to a “Game Over Man, Game Over!” situation quickly.

The most dangerous though is if they get to your tents which each tent holding four workers suddenly they turn the workers into zombies so not only do you lose your workers but you now have four more zombies to worry about.  Pretty soon they take out all your tents, have an extra horde and have completely cut off your ability to build, collect resources or make more troops.  As a result one of the first things I get going it a saw mill to get wood and start building a wooden wall around the tents, because if they fall, unlike any other building, it is really hard to recover.

Since Survival is a single player mode right now (things can change during Early Access) players are able to pause the game and take a look at the map, decide and start what buildings you want to build and figure out a strategy and implement it depending on how the map looks.  This is really helpful in case a player isn’t a professional level player but still enjoys strategy games.  If there were the option to slow down and speed up gameplay I think it would make the game more accessible to wider group of players so that those who are really good can speed it up or those who aren’t as good but still like playing these kind of games can have a chance to survive.  Also players are sometimes just waiting for an action or build to happen before they move forward and speeding up play can help that.  Pausing the game helps a lot but when you consider you are dealing with thousands of zombies who will eventually swarm over your town every little bit of extra help can be satisfying.

The other way this game could be a little more user friendly would being able to save.  The game saves itself when certain situations in it’s programming happen (it just seems to randomly pop up a message that it is saving) but the player doesn’t have the same option.  Having a couple of save files, even if it is only two, would be handy so that if you realize you made a bit of a mistake and the town gets overrun because of it it would be nice to not lose hours of gameplay because you weren’t able to save.  I understand why they have it this way just like I can understand why they wouldn’t want to make it so you can change the speed of the game, they aren’t trying to make this game accessible to lots of people by making it easy, they are trying to challenge players by making it hard.  The idea being that once you lose you have lost and need to start from scratch with the game putting you on a new random spot on the map so you can figure out how to survive in a different setup.  There is a way to save but it is kinda sly and I wouldn’t be surprised if they change it.  If you leave the game you can save and exit to the main screen.  This creates a single save point.  If the game decides to save sometime when you come back it will save over the spot you did but otherwise you have a spot of saved progression that will be there even after you lose under “Continue”.  If you or the game save too close to when you got overrun it becomes a pretty useless save but otherwise it might give you a second chance at the game.

Community mode is interesting and nice for players who like a competitive challenge.  All players are placed on the same map and in the same place to see how well they do at surviving.  Players only get one shot at it and they are scored and ranked against all other players who take the challenge.  The plan is to have new Community maps over time so players can get a bit of a PvP feel from it.

A fun way to make each game an unique twist is the addition of a mayor where you pick between candidates for the additional aspect that you feel will best help your community.  One mayor might give you the ability to make snipers (a HUGE game changer) but his competitor might be able to upgrade all your tents greatly increasing the number of workers you have without having to build anything (sometimes not enough workers means no more mercs to help your defenses).  The choice is difficult because one gives you better quality of mercs the other gives you more.  Decisions, decisions…

There is supposed to be a Campaign mode as well and players haven’t yet been given access to it.  Personally that is my favorite aspect of a game so I can’t wait to give it a try.  Usually playing through a campaign helps players become better for Survival mode but it is usually the most time consuming to create so it makes sense it would take a longer amount of time to prepare.  Since it is Early Access I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on it even if it was only a few levels or likely to change.

The game has difficulty levels but they are done in a different setup than most games.  No matter how hard the difficulty the zombies don’t change.  The difficulty levels consist how many days of gameplay and how high the population is.  So you can set the population to be at it’s easiest and that would be “Just A Few Infested (Easiest)” and the hardest is “High Population (Brutal)”.  The other part is how long before the zombie horde collapse onto you, the hardest being 80 days and the easiest 150.  So at it’s easiest it is Just A Few Infested and 150 days of play.  It seems odd that that the shortest games is the hardest but if you are building and not a StarCraft ranked level of player you want all the time you can get to build up all the defenses you can.

When the horde comes it is crazy brutal, not just on your town but on your computer.  Even gaming rigs have a hard time handling the thousands of zombies piling up on your defenses.  I don’t think there are billions, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were when they started but now there are plenty enough to give lag spikes to even hardcore gamers.

They Are Billions is a really fun game already as is, the addition of Campaign mode will make it that much better.  There are a few changes that would be cool to see but if they weren’t made the game is still a blast to play.  Just don’t be surprised if the first few, or several, times you play you get mowed down.  It is Survival or Community mode and both are designed to be hard as heck by their nature.  Once the Campaign mode comes along it should be a little more playable by a wider audience and I know I will be among them.

Overload Review

Overload is brought to us by the same creators as Descent and Descent 2 and is meant as a spiritual sequel.  The game was kind of before its time back then but now a 6-degree-of freedom shooter is very much a welcome play style.

You are in a little, one man ship bristling with weapons and you are hunting down automatons. These robots that were meant to make our lives easier have instead turned against their human hosts and started a killing spree.  Luckily your ship is armored and can spin in any direction needed to take the robots down.  Because they are robots there is no blood or gore but there are lots of satisfying explosions and power ups to be found which change how your weapons look as you blow them away.

I tried really hard to get used to playing on such a dizzying axis with the keyboard and mouse but it didn’t take long for me to realize I didn’t stand a chance of having any control of the ship unless I used a gamepad or joystick.  Once I got the hang of that I was able to move around all over the place just using the map to find my way or launching a holo-guide out that will lead you to your next objective.  Sometimes I would get a bit turned around on the map because it was a little hard to tell if you are upside down or not in some places but usually there would be some debris from a destroyed automaton to point out if you had been there before.  After a while I didn’t care if I was upside down or not going through a door, all that mattered was that I could start getting shots off and strafe if there were too many and I needed to break for shelter.

The graphics are nice with a lot of detail in the environments, the automatons, and explosions. The music is actually made by the people who made the music for Descent and Descent 2.  All you have to do is look at who is doing the game and music creation and you get the deja vu of the Descent while playing Overload.  It was easy to gauge whether or not the game would be welcome because it was crowdfunded through kickstarter clearing the $300,000 target by getting $306,537 from 4,896 backers.  With that built-in automatic play numbers it was going to have population from the start, that’s nice since the game has a multiplayer part that gives you a chance to test your growing skills against other players.  I think you probably should play through the single player campaign before going at the other players who are for the most part very seasoned.  I got my butt handed to me when I tried to play multiplayer midway through the levels and I promised myself I wouldn’t try it again until I had a lot more practice under my belt.

Overload has 15 levels, 16 types of weapons, multiple upgrade choices, 20+ types of robots with 3 bosses, Survival and Efficiency challenge modes, and level challenges such as lava, force fields, enemy turrets, and countless secret rooms.  There are so many secret rooms and hidden objects that if a person is a completionist they will want to go back and find everything they missed so they will have multiple replays of levels.  I tried really hard to find everything in the levels on the first run through and I failed miserably, when I got to the end and saw I had missed 2/3rds of the hidden parts I knew I would have to got back again.

To top it all off if you have an HTC Vive or Oculus you can play Overload VR which supports all the major controls such as keyboards and gamepads.  Overload is tons of fun with great graphics even if you don’t have VR equipment, though if I ever get Hive or Oculus this game will be at the top of my list of games to play.

 

Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn Review

Shaq Fu came out on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1994 and celebrated the hugely popular 1993 NBA Rookie of the year, Shaquille O’Neal. However the game that celebrated him was met with mixed reviews.  Despite these reviews, the cult status of the game increased over the years. Mad Dog Games and Big Deez Productions have brought the game back in a way with Shaq Fu: A Legend Rebord. Hailing from a successful crowdfunding campaign, Shaq Fu: The Legend Reborn promised better gameplay, visual quality, and more. But, does it deliver?

The original Shaq Fu was mostly about its tournament play, very much in the style of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, but Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a side-scrolling brawler in the vein of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Bad Dudes.  The graphics lend themselves to this feel too since they are somewhat cartoony and the first indication this game doesn’t take itself too seriously.  The dialogue can be downright hilarious and tends to poke fun at the characters, the 4th wall, and even their crowd funding campaign. The jokes will not for everyone since some are pretty much anything but PC.  The voice acting is well done (Shaquille O’Neal performs his own lines), the graphics are pretty good even if they get a little stagnant at times and sometimes it is fun to have a game that takes nothing serious. Even the health potions are “ICYHOT”, which is a reference to a product Shaq has endorsed for years.

Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn starts with baby Shaq being abandoned into a stream where eventually a woman finds him. She names him and takes him back to the village where he was subsequently bullied.  An old Kung Fu master took him in, trained him in the arts and becomes a sort of father to him.  When the game starts we find out that the old man has been ordained to be a protector of mankind and he plans to pass the mantle on to Shaq. Unfortunately, the old Kung Fu master is killed which sends Shaq on a mission of revenge.

The fighting action is fairly standard for side-scrolling fighter: You walk forward, beating up all enemies, and breaking items to find health and power-ups.  There are special attacks which I hear are easier to master on some platforms like the Nintendo Switch but is just a wee bit harder to get used to on Steam. Using the keyboard isn’t too bad but it really feels built for a gamepad so I highly recommend you use one if you play. Breaking all the breakables is important because some fights, particularly boss ones can be tricky and being as high health and power you can before fighting is important.  The game auto-saves progress at certain points so you don’t have to worry about that.

The bosses are all interesting in design.  They are all demonic celebrities based on real celebrities. Sometimes you will fight one that is based on Justin Bieber and its one that looks a lot like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. You find out that these demon celebrities were actually put on Earth to brainwash people into moronic subservience.  For some reason this plot point felt fairly believable.

Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a fun game if you don’t take it serious and you have a bit of a crude, non-PC sense of humor.  It isn’t very long but the digital copy is only about $20 on most platforms, the retail version is twice as much (the Switch retail version is $47!) so I highly recommend the digital download.  If you per-ordered NBA Playgrounds and had to deal with the delayed arrival you might have a free copy of Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn in your game store as an apology gift.  There were also some collector’s editions with extra goodies and a few SNES copies made as well but unless you are a hardcore Shaq fan stick to the download and look forward to the Barrack Fu DLC coming up where you will fight a thinly veiled… Kanye West.  For some that might be worth the game price right there.