Author - Judgeman

Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection – A Review (Xbox One)

The success of Street Fighter II truly set the arcade world on fire back in 1987, igniting a series of copy cat games in the fighting genre for years to come.  Each rival company tried to emulate Capcom’s success, by creating their own version to through into the fighting game arena.  NeoGeo was one such company, and Samurai Shodown was their third fighting game that had found success in the arcades.  Following The Art of Fighting and King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown was released in 1993, and quickly became a successful franchise for NeoGeo.  Today, we take a closer look at Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection, which boasts full release versions of 7 of the games within the Samurai Shodown franchise, including the unreleased Samurai Shodown V Perfect.

Story

Fighting games in the 90’s didn’t bother themselves with story or plot as much as we see today.  Mortal Kombat 11’s huge story mode with cut scenes and player decisions is still a relatively new thing for the fighting game genre.  So looking for character develop in a game like Samurai Shodown just isn’t going to happen.

The overall plot for the franchise is set in Japan during the late 18th century, during the Sakoku (closed country) period where foreign interaction and trade was extremely limited.  The plot for each game various, but is usually centered around the rise of an evil lord or spirit that needs to be vanquished.  In the first game, that villain was actual historical character, Shiro Tokisada Amakusa, who has been resurrected after being slain by the Tokugawa Shogunate.  This resurrection brings evil and chaos to Japan, drawing in fighters from all over the world.

There is much artistic license taken here to include foreign characters, dead historical characters, and fictional monsters to the series of games.  Haohmaru is considered the franchise’s protagonist, and is based off of a legendary swordsman named Miyamoto Musashi, who died in 1645.  Other characters, like Gilford, are foreign born and would normally not be in Japan during the Sakoku period, but developers wanted to add in other nationalities to make the game more appealing to a broader audience.

Game Play

Digital Eclipse, the company that put this collection together, did a great job in recreating the exact games as they were when they were originally released.  You are not going to get any quality of life improvements with Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection, but you will get the 7 games as they are meant to be played, with imperfections and all.

Like all fighting games in the 90’s, you select your character and must defeat a series of rivals before facing off against the boss character.  Each character has a series of special moves, a power bar, and a fatal strike.  Once you defeat the final boss, a short cutscene will play out ending your character’s story arc.

Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is perfectly preserved by Digital Eclipse.  Each game is exactly as it was when it was released, or meant to be released as is the case with Samurai Shodown V Perfect.  What this really means is that the games do feel aged and imbalanced, especially when you play other players via online.  The original Samurai Shodown was meant to be played slowly and methodically.  As characters become more damaged, they become more powerful.  If a player isn’t careful, that opponent who is on the brink of death and wipe you out with one stroke.  Some moves will feel very spammy and cheap, especially in comparison to how games are balanced today.

There is some slight game play variations and upgrades as you work your way through the collections, but it still feels aged.  Unlike the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is a collection that I would only recommend for those that loved the series from day one, like I do, or are interested in the history of fighting games.  Others will find that the games feel clunky, imbalanced, and just don’t look good overall.

Aesthetics

When looking at the original aesthetics of Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection, there is a lot that was fascinating with the franchise.  To add to the time period feel that the game is set in, all of the voice overs are done in Japanese, including the announcer.  The graphics and character design were top notch, for the time that it was released.  When looking at it through today’s eyes, it is an aged eyesore that looks weird when you stretch the screen across a big screen tv in your living room.

Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection has been perfectly preserved from it’s original format, which means you will be playing this either surrounded by a box of artwork or stretched to fit your tv.  It would have been nice to have some improvements added into this series of games, but I understand why it wasn’t done.  Similar to  Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is truly geared for fans of the series, or fans of history.

Final Thoughts

Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is a great collection of games for a specific group of people.  If you are like me, and are old enough to have played the original games in the arcaded back in the 90’s, then this series hits the perfect swell of nostalgia, for both good and bad.  The games within this series are perfectly recreated, including the original sounds, voice overs, and music.  But with that is also the fact that the game just looks aged and ugly on our high definition big screen tvs.  You will also love Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection if you are a fan of fighting game history.  This game has everything you need to play through the Samurai Shodown legacy, including the never before released Samurai Shodown V Perfect.  For a portion of you out there, you will buy this game just for Samurai Shodown V Perfect and be happy.  If you don’t fall into these categories, then I would just recommend going back a year and playing the 2019 reboot of Samurai Shodown.  If you love the reboot, then take a look at Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection.  Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is available now for the Xbox One for $39.99.

Review of Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus

With the release of the ninth edition of the tabletop game just around the corner, it is a great time to give another Warhammer 40k game a review.  This time around, it is Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus by Bulwark Studios.  Games Workshop, the company that owns the rights to Warhammer 40k, has been much more open about letting their precious license out to different developers, which has led to some rather unflattering games of late.  However, this game is not one of them.  Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is a combination of the Warhammer 40k stories and myths with the game play of XCOM, and it works very well together.

“There is no truth in flesh, only betrayal.”
“There is no strength in flesh, only weakness.”
“There is no constancy in flesh, only decay.”
“There is no certainty in flesh but death.”

Story

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus follows the tech branch of the armies of the Emperor, known as the Adeptus Mechanicus.  Adeptus Mechanicus, or the Cult of the Machine, provides the Emperor and the armies of Terra with scientists, technicisions, and engineers.  The branch is organized like a religion that worships the Machine God or “Omnissiah”.  This gives the entire branch a much more religious overtone then a military one, and that carries into Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus.  

The story of Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus, which was written by Ben Counter (veteran of writing over forty 40k novels), focuses on the Adeptus Mechanicus exploring a world, only to discover the tech remnants of an alien race that came before.  While exploring the tombs of this alien race, they find that the race hasn’t left, but is entombed within these structures and is waking up.  This puts the Adeptus Mechanics in direct conflict with the Necrons, robotic skeletons that serve C’tan and have been dormant for over 60 million years.

Before each mission, the leaders of the Adeptus Mechanicus argue over the different approaches or meanings of what you are accomplishing on the surface.  It’s these leaders that gives Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus its feeling and tone.  Your troops on the field never exhibits any type of personality, but these leaders each have a different personality with a different view of how to best serve the Omnissiah.  Scaevola speaks in equations, not true sentences while Videx believes ignorance is strength and anything alien must be destroyed to preserve the faith.  As missions continue, you will need to make decisions on what to do with certain interactions, based on the ideals of your leaders.

The story works and is faithful to the Warhammer 40k universe.  If you are looking for a character arc, where a character gets to learn and grow and develop, you are in the wrong game.  This story is full of gothic religious overtones and a crusade against the xenomorphs on the planet.  The characters’ personalities are interesting and varied, but also never change nor has any type of story arc.  Still, the story is faithful to the Warhammer 40k universe and you will get a very positive Warhammer story out of Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus.

Gameplay

In my intro, I compared Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus to XCOM, which is about the closest game that I have played that feels closest in comparison.  Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is a turn based game that focuses on one squad of tech priests exploring tombs on the planet.  You will select your next mission from a series of missions that can be found at the player hub, which is represented by your massive starship.  In this hub, you will also get to outfit your tech-priests with different weapons and skills.  Each weapon will have different characteristics, such as damage type, range and power, that you need to take into consideration before each mission.  The skills are also broken into several skill-trees that gives different bonuses or advantages.

Once on a mission, your view will change to that of the map of the tomb that you are currently exploring.  Each room will have a different icon denoting something that you can interact with, however, the longer you spend exploring a tomb the more Necrons will awaken and rise to stop you.  Some rooms have the aforementioned decisions that you need to make, while others will have Necrons already awake within them that will lead to combat.

When you enter combat, your view will change to that of the room that you are fighting in.  You will get to place your tech-priests down on the map, then combat begins.  Combat is turn-based, and you will see this sequence along the top of your screen.  Each individual will have a certain number of strategy points that can be used to interact with items, move or fight.  You can gather more points at different nodes on the map.  These points are shared amongst all of your characters and you will have a maximum that you are allowed to store.

Each weapon will do a different type of damage, and each enemy can be resistant to different types of damage, but you need to scan your enemies to see what they are resistant to or how many health points they have.  Putting up your melee tech-priest against Necrons who are resistant to melee damage is not wise.  You will need to use your Servo-Skulls to gather this information, and also to interact with other items on the map.  Necrons will also continue to pour onto the map from their spawn points, and will also try to resurrect themselves once knocked down.

What differs Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus from Xcom is the complete lack of cover and the percentage to hit.  In Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus  you only have a percentage to crit, every attack will hit it’s target if you are in range.  However, the same goes with the Necrons.  Your resistances will help defend yourself, but it is better to utilize disposable troops, like your Servitors, to act as shields to protect your tech-priests.

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus plays incredibly well and, while it feels like XCOM in some ways, it differs itself enough from that franchise to be interesting within itself.  Having the game focus on the often over-looked Adeptus Mechanicus gave the game play a different feeling then I was expecting, as the story also helped guide the tone of the game itself.

Aesthetics

While I would not say that Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus fails to hit modern day levels of aesthetics, this is easily the section that it falls shorter then the rest.  The graphics of Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus work well for what it is intended.  The player hub does a great job in helping push that gothic/religious feeling that the story is portraying, but the actual graphics of the game feels like they fall shorter then I would like.  Tombs are generic in design, aesthetically, and dialogue boxes are just talking heads that are not fully animated.

Voice acting is also absent in this game during game play.  Each leader communicates via textbox, with no voice acting at all.  This is a shame, since it would have brought the personalities of the tech-priests to whole different level.  While not a deal breaker in any sense of the term, I feel that voice acting would have made Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus much better in terms of story telling and interactions with the player.

Final Thoughts

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is a great representation of the Warhammer 40k universe and is a great game in it’s own right.  Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus delivers on the gothic/religious overtones of the Adeptus Mechanicus as they begin their crusade against the xeno Necrons.  The game play will feel like an XCOM game, but won’t feel as punishing or as difficult.  In fact, I was expecting a difficult slog through Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus and what I found was a game that could be challenging at times, but wasn’t overpowering in its difficulty.  As a 40k fan, I thoroughly enjoyed Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus and feel that fans of the game will enjoy this as well.  For non-fans of Warhammer 40k, Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus may not be the perfect entry point into the massive lore that is Warhammer 40k, but should be the second or third game you play to get into what the universe is all about.  Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is available now on the Playstation 4.

Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath – A Review (PC)

A little more than a year after the release of the main game, Netherrealm studios has released Mortal Kombat 11‘s biggest expansion to date with Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath.  MK 11: Aftermath has a lot of content within it’s dlc package, but not all of it will cost you money.  Everyone who owns MK 11 will get three new content updates to that game for free:  new stages, stage fatalities, and friendships.  These much needed additions are a fantastic change and are very welcome as free add-ons.  This review, however, will focus on the other content that you can only get by paying the $40 to purchase the other half of the MK 11: Aftermath dlc content:  story expansion, 3 new characters, 3 new character skin packs, and a Johnny Cage exclusive skin.  Is it worth your hard earned money?  Let’s dive deeper with our full review of Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath.

Story

The story for MK 11: Aftermath picks up the second that the main storyline in MK 11 ends.  After Kronika’s defeat, Fire God Liu Kang and Raiden are trying to repair the damage to the timelines by using the hourglass, when they are interrupted by Nightwolf, Fujin, and Shang Tsung.  These three combatants were removed by Kronika early in MK 11’s storyline and put into the void due to keep them from interfering with Kronika’s plans.  The trio inform Liu Kang and Raiden that Liu Kang needs Kronika’s crown in order to wield the sands of time, but since he destroyed the crown during his fight with Kronika, Liu Kang must travel back in time to retrieve it.  It is decided that Liu Kang must stay with the hourglass to try to repair the timeline, and that Nightwolf, Fujin, and Shang Tsung would be sent back in time to retrieve the crown.

MK 11: Aftermath’s story campaign essentially has you replaying events throughout MK 11, but with some twists based on the actions of the three characters that were sent back.  There are five chapters that you will play through, playing as Nightwolf, Sheeva, Fujin, Sindel, and Shang Tsung.  Only two of the five chapters allows you to choose between two characters, the most important being the last fight of MK 11: Aftermath that determines the ending of the expansion.  Of the expansion characters, only Sheeva gets her own full chapter to shine, while Fujin must share his chapter with Sindel.

The three-hour story is a good addition to MK 11: Aftermath’s dlc content, but it does not do anything to further the storyline of MK 11.  The ending will give you a glimpse into the future, depending on who you choose for the final battle, but you will be mostly playing alternative versions of the same events that you played through in the core game.  Still, it is a very enjoyable three-hours spent and it is fantastic to get more storyline with a dlc for MK 11.   Hopefully, we can answer whether or not the $40 price tag is worth it for you by the end of this review.

Game Play

Most of MK 11: Aftermath’s game play content update is free to everyone. What you get extra with your $40 is three new characters, and new skin packs.  In MK 11: Aftermath, you will receive Fujin, Sheeva and Robocop to play as in various modes.  Like other non-Mortal Kombat characters, Robocop does not make an appearance anywhere in the story for MK 11: Aftermathbut is a fun addition nonetheless.

Out of the three new characters, Sheeva is easily the most interesting and needed for me.  Making her first appearance in Mortal Kombat 3, Sheeva is a fun addition to play as in MK 11: Aftermath.  Sheeva’s combos feel satisfying to pull off and she is naturally a huge close range threat, with her jump-stomp attack helping to close a range gap when needed.  Like all other new characters, she has three variations to work with, each focusing on a different aspect of Sheeva’s pool of moves.

Fujin is a little less exciting for me, but still interesting of a character to get for this dlc.  Fujin first playable appearance was in Mortal Kombat 4 and has been a minor player in the background of the MK series ever since.  Fujin is the Shinto God of Wind and is brother to Raiden, so his move sets are all based on his wind powers and sword abilities.  Fujin also has a crossbow, that can be fired in a bouncing trajectory, but is a pain in the but to pull off when needed (at least for me).

Robocop is the final new character that you get with MK 11: Aftermath, and is the most interesting in concept yet the most dull in execution.  Following the recent tradition of adding in new popular culture characters as dlc characters, everything about Robocop is based off of his movies back in the 80’s.  For those of you that don’t know, Robocop is a cyborg that was created by the OCP corporation, using the body of a slain police officer, to patrol Detroit in the future.  Voice by Peter Weller, the original screen actor, Robocop has all the moves you would expect based on his appearance in the movies.  Even his first fatality recreates some of the famous scenes from Robocop.  However, everything about Robocop feels plain.

The last content items you get with MK 11: Aftermath are three new character skin packs and an exclusive Johnny Cage skin.  While the three skin packs have yet to be released, the Johnny Cage skin is an interesting one.  It’s essentially a black and gold outfit with an open jacket, similar to some of the other skins that Johnny Cage wears.  The jacket itself can be either black or gold, and has the Netherrealm Studios logo on the back.  It’s a nice addition, but one that brings little value to the dlc.  Since the other packs have yet to be announced, I have no idea if those will bring more value for me or not.

Aesthetics

The aesthetics for MK 11: Aftermath is exactly the same as the original game.  There are no graphical upgrades, or changes in sound to mention.  The voice acting for the expansion is very well done, but the stand out is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.  Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, the voice actor for Shang Tsung, really carries the entire storyline for MK 11: Aftermath.  He brings to the front the smugness and confidence that Shang Tsung needs for this story and is absolutely perfect in tone and in execution.  The other voice actors are just as good as you would expect from the main game.  Mortal Kombat has had one of the most convoluted storylines of any video game that I have ever played, with many reboots, restarts, and alternative timelines mixed in.  It is due to the amazing voice actors that I care as much as I do about these characters still, after 11 or so games in this universe.

Final Thoughts

MK 11: Aftermath is a hard expansion to really rate, for me.  Being a huge fan of the series, anything that adds a story element to the main game is already a must-buy for me.  But looking at this expansion objectively, is there really enough content here to justify the $40 price tag?  We don’t even know what costume packs we are getting in the future, but I guess that isn’t any different then buying into a season pass for a game anymore.  The storyline is fantastic, and the three new characters are great additions, but $40 just seems a little steep for me, for what you actually get in this expansion.  If you are a massive fan of the Mortal Kombat series, then I have to recommend that you pick up MK 11: Aftermath, it is a great addition to a great game and continues the story from the original perfectly.  If you didn’t like the story, or are not interested in any of the characters that are available in MK 11: Aftermath, then I feel that the free content of this expansion will serve you well and you can pass this by.  Overall, your mileage will vary with MK 11: Aftermathas will your desire to pick it up at the $40 price tag.  MK 11: Aftermath is available now on Steam.

SnowRunner – A Review (PC)

I like driving games, I really do.  I have great memories of playing Gran Turismo 2 for hours on the original Playstation.  I’ve played pretty much every version of the Colin McCray DiRT series as well.  Whether is racing head to head to beat your opponents, or the challenge of knocking off a few seconds from your best time, the challenge of these racing games is completely different then the rest of my game collection.  Then came along SnowRunner, by Saber Interactive and Focus Home Interactive.  SnowRunner isn’t a racing game at all – it’s a driving simulator, so I wasn’t sure even if I was interested in playing it or not.  If not assigned to me for this review, SnowRunner would have completely gone under my radar.  I am kind of glad that it didn’t.

Story

Well, SnowRunner doesn’t have any type of story to speak of.  There isn’t any character progression, conflict, or resolution.  Just you, various vehicles, and various challenges set across three large landscapes.  You begin the game in Michigan, then move onto Alaska, and finally end up in Taymyr, Russia.  Each time the landscape shifts, your challenges and driving difficulty ramps up as you need to deal with different terrains.  As the game progresses, you will collect and store various vehicles in your garage.  All of the vehicles can be upgraded and customized as you either earn money from your jobs or find parts along the way.

Beginning the game in Michigan, you start off with a small 4wd truck and the first challenge; drive to the next location and get your GMC flatbed truck to deliver materials to finish a bridge.  Seems simple enough, right?  Drive truck from A to B, except that the road is out just down the road from where you start.  This is your first introduction to how the game really plays.  You are given seemingly two options at this point, take the off road detour up into the hills and around the closed road, or slide just passed the barrier and continue down the road.  I decided to just slide around the barrier and immediately got stuck in the mud just off of the side of the road.  It took me far longer to get myself unstuck and going again, then it would have just to head down the detour and drive around the barrier.

SnowRunner is hard and challenging.  This isn’t Dark Souls hard, where you need perfect timing or memorization of an opponent’s attacks.  No, this is “long lasting patience” hard, as in, you better have the patience to take it slow and spend a massive amount of time to get to where you want to go.  This goes against every ounce of how my brain is wired!  I found it extremely difficult to kick the truck into 4wd and low gear, then crawl up a mountain to avoid a obstacle in the road.  I just wanted to drive super fast over the dirt road, drift around corners, and get to my objective quickly, just as I had done a million times in DiRT.  SnowRunner will punish you for these thoughts.  This is a slow down and chill style of game, and you had better get that straight quickly or you will spend most of your time digging out your trucks.

Game Play

Since there is no story in SnowRunner, I’ve already hit on some game play elements in the above section.  So here, I’m going to focus on the nitty gritty game play elements that make up the rest of the game.  First, make sure you have yourself a game pad for this one.  I started playing SnowRunner using a mouse and keyboard, since I had no idea where my game pad was.  Within the first 15 minutes, I was digging through boxes looking for my game pad.  This game is tough to begin with, and even tougher with a mouse and keyboard.

The controls are fairly simple, but do vary depending on the vehicle your driving.  Driving controls are pretty much what you would expect with some variation.  You have controls for your gas and break, like every other driving game out there, but you will also need to control your gear shift and 4wd option as you are moving through the maps.  These two controls will be what you use most of the time to get through the difficult terrain, along with the winch that you have attached to the front of your vehicles.  If you get your car really stuck and the winch can’t help you, you can switch to another vehicle you have in your collection to drive out and pull your first vehicle out of the mud, snow, river, or where ever you got it stuck.

The challenges are mostly delivery in concept, but you need to consider the type of delivery and match the correct vehicle to the job.  Showing up to a job with the wrong truck will significantly increase the difficulty of the challenge and make it take much longer than it needed to.  With how long it takes to go from point A to point B in some of these challenges, you do not want to make two or three runs.  You could pour 20 to 40 hours of time into SnowRunner fairly easily.

One negative with SnowRunner is how some of the vehicles actually control, especially the smaller trucks.  I was expecting the vehicles to control worse the larger the vehicle, but I found that the smaller truck was harder to keep on the road then the larger ones especially in first person.  The controls were definitely calibrated for larger, slower vehicles.  I found myself over correcting with my turns in the smaller truck, even at one point sliding off the road and hitting a tree.  This would make perfect sense if I was in Alaska with the ice on the road, but I was driving down the street in Michigan with no obstacles.  Since damage to your vehicle will impair it’s abilities, maintaining control is pretty important.

Aesthetics

SnowRunner is a very beautiful game, but not in the way you would expect.  Sure, the graphics are nice and solid, but it isn’t at the level of other games on the market currently.  Where the beauty of SnowRunner comes in is the environment and lighting.  You are traveling through some gorgeous countryside and the lighting effects change as the day progresses.  When night comes, you need to turn on your headlights to see where you are going, because out in the woods there isn’t any streetlights.  This beauty is needed since you will literally spend hours just crawling through it to get to your next objective.

However, as gorgeous as the world is, it is empty.  There is no other life in this world but you.  No other humans or animals exist in SnowRunner, at least from what I have seen.  There are rumors of people seeing wolves or dogs in the woods, but like Sasquatch, these may just be rumors or legends.  One one hand, having no other traffic in SnowRunner means that you have one less thing to worry about while you are trucking down the street with an extremely large truck.  You can take up as much road as you want!  However, it does feel like you are running deliveries in a post apocalyptic world where you are the only survivor.  While not a game breaking criticism, it definitely was noticeable during my play through.

Final Thoughts

SnowRunner is a far better game then I was expecting.  I was not prepared for how good this game was or how much I would enjoy it.  This game is the perfect game to sit back, relax, and just chill to without skimping out on the challenge.  Most chill games are fairly easy, that’s why they are chill.  SnowRunner keeps up the difficulty and will punish you for making a bad choice, while taking things slow and steady in a beautiful, but empty, world.  SnowRunner is available through Epic Games in two different versions: base game is $39.99 while the Premium Edition with Season Pass is $59.99.  Both are available now.

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls – A Review (PC)

Ah yes, another game review that will make me feel very, very old.  The last Wizardry game I played was Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna back in 1987 on my old Apple II.  While I did like that game, it was quickly replaced when Ultima V  and The Bard’s Tale III: The Thief of Fate were both released the following year.  I was a bigger fan of both the Ultima and The Bard’s Tale series then I was of Wizardry,  I had always felt that Wizardry was missing some key ingredients to make it a great game, especially during the golden age of rpgs.

So fast forward to 2020, and I am sitting down to write a review for Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls developed by Acquire and published by XSeed Games.  This is the first Wizardry game that I have played in over 30 years and the first Wizardry game released in North America since 2013.  Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls was originally released back in 2011 for the Playstation 2, and this is essentially just a PC port of that game that has been delayed due to IP issues.  So, how does a 40 year old franchise and a 9 year old port hold up to 2020 standards?  Let’s find out with our review.

Story

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is set in the land of Athals, during the age of Athals.  There was peace in the land, until dangerous creatures, that were once believed to have been locked away by angels, began to roam the land.  These creatures also brought the “Elder Ones”, powerful demons that turned their attention to the land of Athals.  The sages of the land began to tell stories of the prison that the “Elder Ones” were once constrained in has lost its power and that the balance in the world is beginning to collapse.  Darkness continues to arise over the horizon, as adventurers begin to come forth to battle the rising tide of evil.

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls begins with a pretty heavy expository dump, which I pretty much summed up in the preceding paragraph.  Ultimately, evil has come to the land and your party of adventurers needs to destroy the evil and bring peace to the land.  It is fantasy story development 101 and as cliche as it could be.  There isn’t anything major in terms of character development or story narrative, so if you are looking for a rich, deep story then I would point you elsewhere, like the Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale remake that came out a little bit ago.

Game Play

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is a retro rpg through and through.  You are going to do a lot of work for very little reward in this game, but if you love retro rpgs then this game is for you.  You begin by creating your character, with very little in terms of information or tutorial.  However, you can figure most of this out if you have played rpgs before.  There are five races to choose from, and multiple classes for each race.  Only one race, porklu, isn’t a generic fantasy race that you have seen before.  Stats are pretty generic for the most part, however there isn’t any game terms on how these stats affect your character in terms of hit points, damage, or chance to hit.  Once you finish your avatar, you are placed into the city of Aitox.

Aitox is represented by a static painting of a bustling city and a menu.  You don’t get to explore the city at all, you just choose your destinations from the menu.  While I can forgive the generic story setting and the unintuitive character creation, not allowing me to explore a city and experience it is strike one against Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls.  The menu allows you to visit the Inn, Shop, Guild, Temple, or Dungeons.  Most of these are self explanatory.  You will need to recruit the rest of your party and outfit them with weapons and armor before heading into the Dungeons, so that should be your first step.  You do need to watch the alignment of your party, which is interesting.  For a while I could not figure out why I couldn’t have the Thief and the Cleric in my party at the same time, until I looked at their alignments.  Good aligned party members will not travel with evil aligned members, or at least the Cleric wouldn’t.

Once you have gotten your party ready, then off to the Dungeons you go.  You can select two Dungeons to explore, and are treated to some first person, 3D environments that look like they haven’t been touched since 2011.  The dungeon looks repetitive and dull, and the monsters you fight are static 2D representations, like what you ran into in the city.  You step one space at a time in the dungeon and will need to map your way through, just like the old days of PC rpgs.  That is, unless you thought to buy a map at the Shop, then it will act as an automap.  So you will need to decide to put in gold, which is scarce in the beginning, into either an upgraded weapon or armor, or to see where the hell you are going in the Dungeon.  Tough choice….

The monsters you encounter are very interesting, which is very nice.  There is a great variety from the fantasy mundane to the unique.  Combat, however, is dull and repetitive.  I had characters that could only defend most of the time since they did not have anything ranged to use and they were in the back line.  Spells are great, but are limited use before they run out and you need to rest to regain them.  I just found myself clicking the same buttons over and over, hoping that my armor and health would hold out while I did enough damage to kill my enemies.

Aesthetics

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls has a solid game at its core, but it’s wrapped up in a dull and generic aesthetic, that doesn’t make the most sense sometimes.  For instance, male dwarves are taller than male humans, but female dwarves are the height that you would expect.  While I would never begrudge a developer to try something new that breaks fantasy stereotypes, dwarves are kinda supposed to be small, I mean it’s even implied in the name since they are “dwarfed” by other races.

As I said earlier, there is very little actually animated in Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls.  Most of everything is a static painting, which all has a very generice, japanese anime look and feel to it.  The actual graphics look like they weren’t updated from the 2011 Playstation 2 release, and the music sounds like it could almost be 8 bit.  The music is as generic as the rest of the aesthetic in Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls.

Final Thoughts

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is a tough game to review.  At its core, Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is great at replicating that vintage and classic rpg feel that used to be king during the 1980’s.  However, we have come to expect much, much more from our games these days.  While I am a member of the “graphics aren’t everything” camp, they do need to be updated and interesting.  Making Aitox not explorable was also a huge misstep and made the game feel much, much smaller than it should have felt.  Honestly, I just found myself wanting to play Legend of Grimrock while I was playing this game, and that shouldn’t happen.  Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls  just reminded me of other, better games that are available on the market today.  However, for the $14.99 price tag on Steam, it’s worth the risk if you are looking for a retro rpg that you haven’t played before.  Ultimately, it was generic and bland enough to be forgettable, but not offensive.  Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is available now on Steam.

Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition – A Review (Xbox One)

Leading contender to win the “Longest Game Title of the Year” award, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition has finally come to the home console world.  Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition is a port of a remake of two of the greatest Dungeons and Dragons games ever made.  Originally created in 1999 and 2000 respectively, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition was remade by Beamdog in 2014 (Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition) and 2017 (Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition) for mobile platforms.  Finally, in 2019, Skybound Games has taken those remakes and ported them to the console in one glorious, old school package of Dungeons and Dragons Classics.

A couple of notes before getting into this review, in case you haven’t noticed already I love these games.  I played the originals back in college when they were first released and loved every second of them.  I have played Dungeons and Dragons since 1984 and played many of the video games that Strategic Simulations, Inc. put out during the 80’s and 90’s to get my D & D fix.  While I wasn’t a massive fan of the World of Faerun, I did love the new content that was produced in Planescape for the rpg.  Planescape: Torment is easily in my top 20 video games of all time.

Story

To say that you have hundreds of hours of gameplay available to you in Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition is not an exaggeration.  Both games offer a rich story line that will just eat away at the hours that you have to play these games.  The stories told in these games are vastly different, but no less engaging.

In Planescape: Torment, you are the Nameless One and have awoken in a mortuary.  You are immediately approached by a floating skull, named Morte, who offers advice as to how to escape your immediate imprisonment.  Morte reads the tattoos that are inscribed on the body of the Nameless One, and discovers that they need to find someone named Pharod, somewhere in their current city of Pharod.  Planescape: Torment’s story is one of discovery of your past lives and the purpose that you are supposed to fulfill.  The world of Planescape was introduced to the rpg in 1994 and even though it was released to critical acclaim, did not seem to capture the minds of the rpg players as the Forgotten Realms world did.  Planescape: Torment is a wonderful example of the Planescape world and the rich storytelling that could occur in that setting.  For me, this is the better of the two games in this package.

In Icewind Dale, you lead a party of adventurers resting in the town of Easthaven, far to the north in Faerun.  Hired intillay to discover what had happened to a messenger, the party of adventurers is quickly drawn into investigating a great evil that is kidnapping townsfolk from Easthaven.  This leads the party into combating ancient demons and becoming the protectors of Easthaven.  Unlike Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale is much more of a traditional rpg for this time period.  You are leading a party of adventures, not just a single individual, through a story of battling ancient evil and protecting the innocent.  However, the story of Icewind Dale is no less engrossing, even if it is much more classic and traditional in nature.  This edition also contains the expansions Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster.  The World of Faerun is much more popular of the two worlds that you will visit in this package.  If you have played any type of Dungeons and Dragons video game, board game, or rpg within the last five years, you are familiar with this setting.

Gameplay

In an attempt not to make this review twice as long as it needs to be, I’m going to summarize the major components of boths games’ gameplay in this section.  Both games have a very similar base to them, but also vastly differ in other areas.  Both games have similar isometric views that will show you the world around you, but also utilize the “fog of war” on areas that you haven’t explored yet.  Both games also use the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition rules set, so newer players to Dungeons and Dragons will see familiar rules, but will need to familiarize themselves with an older edition of the game.  Both games also have a similar inventory system, where you will place items directly into their proper slots on your characters and both games allow for different dialogue options during conversations.  But the differences between Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale are pretty drastic.

To begin with, Icewind Dale allows the player to change the difficulty of the game.  Accessibility wasn’t a concern back in the late 90’s.  Either you knew how to play, or you learned to “git gud” very quickly.  Both Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale are difficult at their original settings, but only Icewind Dale allows you to turn on Story Mode.  Story Mode is a way for new players to enjoy the story without worrying about death, as your characters cannot die in this mode.  Icewind Dale also allows the player to create their own party of adventurers based on the 2nd Edition rules set, whereas Planescape: Torment you do not have this feature.  You only work with customizing the Nameless One to fit your play style and not a whole party of adventurers.

The controls for both games has been optimized to better fit the console systems.  It did take me awhile to get used to this, being more of a PC rpg player.  Having played both original versions of these games, I have to say that the gameplay feels exactly as I remember, with the exception of the controller versus keyboard.

Aesthetics

While the graphics on Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition has been converted to high definition, both games’ graphics still look old and worn out, compared to today’s standards.  Yes, these games were designed and created 20 years ago, so of course the graphics would be dated, but it is still something that I had to get over.  My memory of how good these games looked did not match up to the reality that, like me, these games are getting older and older.

Voice acting is fantastic in both games.  While your party and characters are not voiced, the characters you will meet will have some voice acting attached to their dialogue.  These conversations are not fully voiced, but are voiced enough to give you a better sense of the world around you.  Planescape: Torment gets a special mention for the voice acting of Morte, who really helps drive the tone of the game.

Final Thoughts

Wow, this review was a lot more difficult to write than I had originally thought.  Not only trying to balance and hit all the points for both Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale, but also managing my nostalgia for both games.  Ultimately, this is a great set of games to buy if you are interested in the history of Dungeons and Dragons games.  These are modern classics of the rpg genre.  If you are someone who originally played these games back in the late 90s, you will get to replay two of the greatest rpg games of that time period, even though they do look like they came from that time period.  Sometimes, what we remember does not translate to reality all that well.  If you are new to these games, I cannot recommend Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition enough, especially to current Dungeons and Dragons players who would like to see what 2nd Edition was all about.  Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition is a solid port of a solid remake of classic games.  Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition is available now for the Xbox One for $49.99.

 

NASCAR Heat 4 Review (Xbox One)

Everyone has certain game types that they are drawn to.  A game that they can work with for hours on end to develop their skills on and become better and better at.  Racing games is not that type of game for me, never has been.  I like a good racing game, but I don’t stress over every little detail of tuning on my car before each race.  I like to jump in, hit the gas, and maybe throw a red shell or two.  But there are those of you that are out there that have oil running in your veins, that stress over how fast your tires are wearing out, and love finding that perfect entry into a tight corner.  704Games has released  NASCAR Heat 4 for that latter group.  NASCAR Heat 4 is a vast improvement over last year’s NASCAR Heat 3 in many ways, while still having some imperfections that keep it from being the perfect NASCAR racing game.  Let’s take a deeper look with our review of NASCAR Heat 4.

Story

NASCAR Heat 4’s story mode is simply their Career Mode.  You will create a driver and a car and begin racing through the ranks, starting off as a dirt track racer.  The customization options for NASCAR Heat 4 are pretty robust.  You are still limited to how you can customize your car or truck, but NASCAR Heat 4 has definetly expanded it’s options over last year’s version of the game.  Once you have your driver and car ready, you will hit the track with the first set of races.  Racing is broken down into three stages:  Practice, Qualifying, and the Race.  In practice, you will drive around the track to get a feel for how your car will handle and how the track will affect your driving.  You will have a target time you are aiming to hit during these practice runs.  You will then need to qualify to determine your pole position, then finally race against the rest of the A.I. drivers.  During these stages, you will be able to fine tune your vehicle based on what you learned during practice and qualifications.

After each race, you will be awarded your race money.  This money will go towards improving your car, buying a new car, or hiring more employees.  Between races you will also have to manage your pit crew and staff’s skills.  Also, depending on how you raced, this will affect your relationship with the other racers in the series.  You will get a feeling for how the other racers feel about you through little Tweets that you can respond to by either complementing or insulting the racer, further changing your relationship with them.  As you get better, you will earn more money and get different sponsors, and this will allow you to continue to improve your car.

NASCAR Heat 4’s career mode plays like a typical sports game career mode would.  It really focuses on the actual racing rather than developing any type of story around your character.  The segments in between the races aren’t even animated or voiced over, you just get text boxes from your agent as he explains the next steps in your career.  This is nothing like FIFA 17, there isn’t any drama or character development here.  The only narrative here is what you what to get out of it. This is not to say that NASCAR Heat 4’s career mode isn’t deep, but it is really made for the hardcore racers out there.

Game Play

To start things off, there are many ways to play NASCAR Heat 4.  Besides the Career mode, you have Challenges, Quick Race, Championship, Online Multiplayer, and Split Screen.  It was great seeing NASCAR Heat 4 with a Split Screen option, literally being the second game I’ve played this week that allows this option still (the other being Borderlands 3).  Each game type being exactly what you would think it would be.  The bread and butter of NASCAR Heat 4, in my opinion, is really the Career Mode.  The rest of the game types are fun, but have issues all their own.  For instance, multiplayer will be able to host 40 players online, but there is absolutely no guarantee that they won’t be complete jerks and just try to ruin a good race.

The biggest change in this year’s NASCAR Heat 4 is the tuning.  If you had your cars on lock down last year, you will need to redo all of your tuning for this year’s version.  In preparing to write this review, I listened and watched some other verteren players go through some of the races and how they were talking about how hard it is to control the cars NASCAR Heat 4’s A.I.  Some were talking about the rubber banding issue, where cars would catch up with the player to pass them, but they would also notice that these cars would then seem to slow down so the player wouldn’t fall that far behind either.  It seems that 704Games is trying to fine tune the A.I. to make it challenging without being frustrating, which I appreciate.  But I had a hard enough time trying to get around a dirt track in the time that the pit crew set.  I could never find the right line that would get me around fast enough but still in control.  This did eventually get better with better tuning and staff, but it was hard in the beginning.  You won’t win your first game, or your second, or even your tenth, but keep at it and you will get better.

Aesthetics

When it comes to aesthetics of NASCAR Heat 4, functional is the best word I can use to describe them.  The visuals are good, not great.  The people, the cars, the tracks, and the weather all look decent enough to do the job without wowing the player.  The same goes with the sound design.  The roar of the engines is exactly as it should be, while your spotter will constantly give you directions through your radio.  The music is pretty generic, mostly generic rock or generic country.  I didn’t recognize any of the tunes that played during game play or the intros.  The aesthetics does the job that it needs to, nothing more and nothing less.

Final Thoughts

NASCAR Heat 4 is, hands down, the best NASCAR game I have ever played, but it also is one of the unfriendliest when it comes to people that don’t know what they really are doing.  If you are a NASCAR fan and are looking for the best video game representation of NASCAR, then NASCAR Heat 4 is for you.  If you are like me, more of a casual racing fan, then you might be better off sticking with something else, but you can still appreciate the finesse and complexity that NASCAR Heat 4 can bring.  NASCAR Heat 4 is available now for the Xbox One for $49.99.

Daymare 1998 – A Review (PC)

While this is a review of Daymare: 1998, one must explain how this game came into being… One of my favorite games of the 90’s is Resident Evil.  I knew absolutely nothing about the game when I bought it in 1996, it just sounded like a good game to get into.  Aside from bad dialogue writing (“master of unlocking”?) and the horrible static camera, Resident Evil was a huge hit on the original Playstation, setting the foundation for a series of sequels, spin offs, and remakes.  Lately, Capcom has been remaking their original games, with Resident Evil 2 just being released early this year.  Prior to Capcom developing this remake, Invader Studios was developing a fan-made remake of Resident Evil 2 that was canceled.  Instead of trashing their game engine, Invader Studios created their own homage to the Resident Evil franchise, called Daymare: 1998.  

Story

Daymare: 1998 is set in Keen Sight, Idaho in the year 1998 (it was the year that Resident Evil 2 was released).  You begin the game as Liev, a member of H.A.D.E.S. which stands for Hexacore Advanced Division for Extraction and Research, en route to a research and development center that has encountered a viral outbreak.  Within moments of entering the facility, we quickly realize that Liev is not a nice guy and that H.A.D.E.S. are not there to rescue any survivors, but to quickly recover the canisters and any data relating to this virus.  The facility is in shambles, and the virus has turned some of the survivors into zombies.  As you proceed with your mission, you encounter more information as to what was going on at this facility,  but continue to complete the mission objectives as ordered.  As the team extracts the containers from the facility, there is an altercation, which causes the helicopter and the containers to crash into a small town near by.  This damages the containers and floods the town with the same virus that infected the facility, turning the residents into zombies as well.  This is where we are introduced to our second playable character, Samuel.

In Daymare: 1998 you will be playing as 3 characters; Liev, Samuel, and Raven.  Each character will play the same, but will have different story elements that are driving their motivation.  For instance, Liev is driven by duty to H.A.D.E.S., while Samuel is driven by revenge and is influenced by hallucinations.  Each character offers different viewpoints of the same events, like it did in Resident Evil 2, and will give you the whole picture once you have played through the entire game.  Unlike Resident Evil 2, however, is that you must play through each characters campaigns, so this will lessen the amount of replayability that Resident Evil 2 had right out of the package.

The story for Daymare: 1998 is right out of Capcom during the 1990s, down to the cheesy dialogue as well.  I’m not sure if Invader Studios expertly crafted the cheesy dialogue to make Daymare: 1998 feel like a Resident Evil game, or if it was just bad writing and it feels right due to the focus of the game.  In either case, this feels like it’s a Resident Evil storyline, which means it’s just as confusing in parts as it is tense.  Expect a faithful recreation of a 90’s Capcom story and you will not be dissapointed.

Game Play

The game play for Daymare: 1998 feels very modern, while the rest of the game feels like it was made in the 1990s (more on that later).  Daymare: 1998  is a third person game, so the camera will hover just off of whatever shoulder you feel comfortable with.  I played Daymare: 1998 with only a mouse and keyboard (didn’t want to dig out the controller) and the controls felt very responsive and tight even without a controller.  Your character and walk, jog, and run, with running draining a stamina bar that is only used for running.  Bringing out a weapon puts the reticle on the screen, and by holding the right button you can aim the weapon, focusing the reticle to be smaller and more accurate.

Each character will have a wrist computer that will serve as the games HUD.  This computer will show you your health status and inventory, as well as objectives.  Your inventory is very limited, and you will need to manually reload your spent magazines to keep your weapon full.  This really matters!  You can reload your gun one of two ways; quick reload and long reload.  A quick reload will swap out a spent magazine for a full one, but will drop the spent magazine on the floor.  A long reload will do the same thing, but the spent magazine will go into your inventory.  You begin the game with only the one magazine in your weapon, so managing this will be vital.  Ammo is not plentiful and so you will need to watch your shots and decide when to run.

There are a few puzzles in the game, this wouldn’t be a Resident Evil style game without them.  However, Invader Studios made many of the puzzles feel more like something a person would run into in the real world, instead of what we saw in the old Resident Evil games.  The first puzzle you come across is dividing the current energy available for the facility into the rooms that are needed to open a door, while the second one has to do with raising and lowering temperature gauges to open a cryo pod.  They require some brain power to work through them, but they do make sense.  Then there was the Greek password puzzle for the director’s office.  Yeah, good luck with that one, that one sucked.

The game play for Daymare: 1998 is the true gem here.  While the game feels like a 90’s homage to video games, it does not play like it.  Gone is the horrible camera, you will see exactly what is eating you.  The first mini boss was a good example of how tight the controls are, even on a mouse and keyboard.  You need to kite the boss around, quickly turn and get a few shots off before running again.  I was able to do this without feeling like I was getting stuck on anything, or that I was fighting the controls the entire time.  Daymare: 1998 should feel like a 90’s game, but shouldn’t play like one.

Aesthetics

Annnnnnd here’s where Daymare: 1998 begins to fall flat for me.  There are certain aspects of the aesthetics for Daymare: 1998 that look and sound just fine, but where Daymare: 1998 falls flat, it hits hard.  Let’s take the visuals first.  The environments looks great.  The atmosphere is proper creepy, and the lighting does a great job of hinting but not showing.  There was some lower quality graphics when you start off in the forest with Samuel, but I felt that the facility and the town looked great. The ambient sound and sound effects also were done very well.  The zombies made enough noise to be creepy and certain sound effect cues did the job of startling the player.  But the bad ended up being, well, bad.

The character models are down right ugly.  I’m not sure if they are supposed to be stylized or not, but there was just something about the humans in this game that I found even more creepy then the monsters and zombies.  I think it had to do with the way the eyes were rendered.  They seem to be too far apart and don’t blink enough.  It’s not a deal breaker, but it was something that I did notice.  I also mentioned before about the bad dialogue, well the actors give that dialogue the treatment that it deserves.  Everyone in the game delivers their lines with the same flat, disinteresting tone of voice.  Again, not sure if this was on purpose to fit the original feel of Resident Evil 2 or if it was what just came out due to the actors that were hired, but it was noticeable.  Again, not a deal breaker, but it will either make you feel like you are playing a 90’s Capcom game, or you will be playing with the sound off and subtitles on.

Final Thoughts

Daymare: 1998 is a fun, good game.  It delivers on the promise of giving the player that Capcom 1998 experience, but with the modern game play so you won’t want to toss your computer out of a window.  Where Daymare: 1998 falls flat, it’s hard to tell if this was a purposeful design decision to mimic that 1998 experience, or if the developers actually fell short of their goal.  The game play is fun and very tight feeling, the environments are mostly well done, but the voice acting, dialogue, and character models all fall short compared to other games out today (or perfectly replicate that 1998 feeling, depending on what you are comparing them to).  Overall, I absolutely recommend this game to anyone that is a fan of the original Resident Evil games, but not if you are a fan of the newer games.  Daymare: 1998 is all about nostalgia, and you need to have that desire or experience of playing a Capcom game in the 90’s to get the most out of Daymare: 1998.  Daymare: 1998 will be available through Steam on September 17th.  As of this writing, I could not locate the final price for Daymare: 1998.

Iratus: Lord of the Dead – A Review (PC)

Iratus:  Lord of the Dead is a Kickstarter funded game, brought to us by Unfrozen in Russia.  Raising $23,316 of it’s @$20,000 goal, Iratus:  Lord of the Dead is in Early Access on Steam and we got to get our grubby little hands on it early.  If you are looking for the quick version of this review, Iratus:  Lord of the Dead is like Darkest Dungeon but you are the villain.  If that simple statement gets you all excited and on board, then I have done my job!  If you need further convincing that Iratus:  Lord of the Dead is a fun game, especially if you missed out on the hidden gem that is Darkest Dungeon, then read on fine individual!  Read on!

Story

So, to briefly sum up the story of Iratus:  Lord of the Dead, it truly is like Darkest Dungeon but you are the bad guy.  The game begins with you playing as Iratus, a long dead necromancer, reviving and aiming to break out of the dungeon that you have been imprisoned in.  With the help of your minions, you will defeat your enemies to free yourself of the prison, established a new base to conduct your villany from, and you will need to protect that base from the good guys.

Iratus:  Lord of the Dead isn’t going to win any awards for storyline or character development, this isn’t that type of game.  Similar to Darkest Dungeon, you can’t get attached to your heroes because they will be dead within the next few levels anyway.  While Iratus is a consistent within the story, he briefly has things to say between events that helps push the story along, and your monsters are never meant to have any type of character, they are disposable like good evil minions should be.  Also, while the story line may make it seem like there is some progression, you pretty much are just crawling through dungeons with your monsters and eradicating heroes, while building up your necropolis between battles.  Not every game needs to be an Oscar Award Winner when it comes to story, so this isn’t a deal breaker.  Just not as refined or as polished as I normally like.

Game Play

Iratus:  Lord of the Dead is a 2D, turn based, side on dungeon crawler where you play as the villain instead of the hero.  You begin the game with a set of minions that you can create.  Then you move along a map and select battles, or items, or make choices based on the icon on the map.  You will battle against different heroes, each with their own weaknesses and strengths to counter your minions own weaknesses and strengths. If you defeat the heroes, then you move along the map.  If, however, you are defeated, then you will need to create a new set of minions and try again.  As these minions die, you can make more by harvesting body parts, weapons , and armor from the heroes you have killed.  Once you are out of minions and can’t make any more, however, the game is over.  So maintaining your minions becomes the essential part of Iratus:  Lord of the Dead.  

You will be able to level up your minions as well.  You get items that allow to you level up your monsters abilities, which will increase a particular stat.  I was very impressed at the large amount of options that I had to choose from whenever I leveled up someone.  Each minion has a set number of skills that can be leveled up, and each skill has two options.  Each option will level up the skill in a particular way, while increasing a different state.  Your sword swing may be leveled up to do more damage and increase your health, or it may be leveled up to hit an extra target and increase your damage resistance, for instance.  You can also outfit your minions with a couple of items that can be looted from corpses.

Iratus can also be outfitted with items between battles, which will give you access to special spells and powers during the next battle.  Each spell uses mana, and some of the spells have limited charges.  Most of your energy will be in outfitting and leveling up your minions, since they do most of the grunt work.  Iratus, you see, does not like to get his hands dirty with combat.  You will also rebuild your necropolis between battles, giving you the ability to create bigger and badder minions, or recover health, or other perks that you will need the deeper you go in the dungeon.

The worst thing I could possibly say about Iratus:  Lord of the Dead is that there isn’t anything new here.  You’ve played it all before.  Games like Darkest Dungeon or Dungeon Keeper have done this same bit, but Iratus:  Lord of the Dead puts it all together into a different shell that I still played for hours and hours.  I did really like Darkest Dungeon so getting more of that wasn’t such a bad thing for me.

Aesthetics

Iratus:  Lord of the Dead graphic design is somewhere just short of a BDSM party at Blizzard’s HQ.  You will swear that you see the Lich King hanging out with a couple of banshees in Iratus:  Lord of the Dead, but he’s just got a few more leather straps and buckles on this time around.  Iratus:  Lord of the Dead did mimic some of Darkest Dungeons aesthetics, but did not go with the heavier ink lines that we see in the later game.  Still, while the graphics are simple in terms of actual technology, the aesthetics are solid and they do the job they need to do.

Audio and soundtrack in Iratus:  Lord of the Dead is fairly forgettable, unfortunately.  Iratus is fully voiced and takes the place of the narrator from Darkest Dungeon.  Iratus will make comments during the battle, and then tell little bits of story in between battles, but nothing fantastic.  While I am sitting here typing this review up, I cannot recall a single piece of music that came from the game.  So the music will do the job it needs to, but you won’t be humming it at work the next day.

Final Thoughts

Iratus:  Lord of the Dead is a solid game that does nothing new.  This review has been about a thousand words, and really the entire review could be summed up with what I said in the intro, “It’s like Darkest Dungeon but you are the villain”.  If you liked Darkest Dungeon, put this on your list to get, it’s more of the same goodness that you have played before.  If you didn’t like Darkest Dungeon, well move along, there isn’t anything for you here.  If you didn’t play Darkest Dungeon, I would recommend giving that one a shot first before playing Iratus:  Lord of the Dead.  It would feel weird to recommend the game where you play the villain before playing a game where you get to be the hero.  Still, at the end of the day, I played the heck out of Iratus:  Lord of the Dead and will continue to do so even after this review.  There is something fun and satisfying about Iratus:  Lord of the Dead that makes me what to recommend it, but really only if you are looking for more Darkest Dungeon.  Iratus:  Lord of the Dead is available now on Steam Early Access for $24.99.

Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry – A Review (PC)

I haven’t played a Leisure Suit Larry game since 1987 when I tricked my mom into buying Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards for me at age thirteen.  Honestly, I’m not sure why I didn’t play any of the rest, but when Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry came across my desk I immediately jumped on it.  Why this one?  Mostly because it felt like a homage back to the very first Leisure Suit Larry game, and I was in the mood for a slower paced adventure game.  Developer CrazyBunch is behind this new version of Leisure Suit Larry, our first new game in over 5 years for the franchise.  So, does Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry get lucky or does it go home alone and depressed?  Find out with our full review!

Story

The story for Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry begins with Larry Laffer waking up in a dark hole.  You don’t remember much about the night before or where you are currently at.  Larry struggles to find a way out, and finds himself in front of Lefty’s Bar in the city of Lost Wages.  When Larry heads into the bar, he discovers that he has been gone for over 30 years and is now in the 21st century.  Larry is taken aback slightly by this news, but then sets out to chase as many women as he can in this new age.

The actual story takes off once Larry finds a PiPhone in Lefty’s bathroom.  The PiPhone is a prototype with a new artificial intelligence, and it needs to be taken back to Prune headquarters right away.  At Prune headquarters, Larry meets Prune CEO Bill Jobs and his assistant Faith.  Larry attempts to hit on Faith, but she tells Larry that she will only date someone who has a Timber score of 90.  Larry, now outfitted with a new PiPhone that he was given for turning in the prototype, sets out into Lost Wages to meet and date as many people as he can to get a Timber score of 90.  His ultimate goal:  a date with Faith!

From the start, just by reading the previous paragraph, you can tell which direction CrazyBunch went with their story for Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry.  This game really pokes fun at both Microsoft and Apple, but mostly Apple, and the pervasive nature of technology in today’s culture.  Most of the humor that CrazyBunch went with is seeing an out-of-time person like Larry Laffer dealing with today’s culture.  The very first girl Larry meets is a woman obsessed with her Instacrap account and gaining as many followers as possible.  He also meets a woman who is a camgirl on the internet, who is trying to make it big as a stripper.

There is a lot of positives and negatives here when it comes to Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry’s story line.  I did like how the story pretends that none of the other games for the last thirty years in the Leisure Suit Larry franchise exists and that this game is a direct sequel to Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards.  However, while some of the jokes about today’s culture and society were funny, most of it felt forced or stereotypical.  The story is very cynical when it comes to the current status of Tinder dating, the people you met in the dating scene, and Apple products and business practices.  I also felt that the story ended fairly abruptly and without closure.  I know this sounds mostly negative, but the storyline falls somewhere between mediocre and decent for me.

Game Play

Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry plays like a modern day point and click adventure game, very similar to the original game back in 1987.  You use your cursor to look at and interact with the world around you.  By left clicking on an item or person, you look at that item or person.  By right clicking on the same item or person, you will then interact with them, based on what the person or item is.  In some cases, this could lead to death.  Death in Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry isn’t horrible, you get a cut scene explaining why you screwed up and then just get sent back to the moment when you entered an area.

Items you pick up will show up in your inventory screen.  At first, this is represented by a notepad in the bottom right corner of your screen, but gets moved to an app on your PiPhone once you unlock that.  Items can be examined in your inventory, and combined to create other items to solve puzzles.  The puzzles in the game come in a variety of difficulty, but can all be solved with some thought and trial and error.  Many puzzles have you traveling from location to location in order to complete tasks or pick up needed items to complete a quest.  There is no quest tracker, so you will need to remember what everyone needs at any given time.

Your PiPhone becomes your means of interaction with most of the world in Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry.  You can travel via the map and the Unter app, this replaces the taxi system in the first game, and will be able to check on your Timber score and other matches through that app.  Not all of your Timber matches can be interacted with, only the ones you can interact with will appear on your map.  The others just becomes a series of Tinder jokes.

Overall, the game play is exactly what I would expect from an adventure game.  If you are a fan of point and click adventure games, then Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry hits all the right marks.  Nothing new or innovative here, but it all works solidly for what it needs to do.

Aesthetics

Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry won’t win any awards for graphics, but it isn’t hideous either.  The visuals are all done in a very cartoon-like style, reminiscent of other point and click adventure games on the market today.  The areas that Larry can head to are all pretty 2 dimensional and limit where Larry can go.  The design of the locations are all stylized and over the top.  Prune’s store looks like a parody of an Apple store.  Even Prune’s logo looks like a stylized vagina that could pass as an apple, which leads to a funny solution to a puzzle later in the game.  There is a sex shop, a gym, a hipster bar, a pier and even a version of Cancun, Mexico.

What works better than the visuals is the voice acting.  Larry sounds exactly as I would imagine him to sound, and this carries over to everyone you meet.  The voice actors did a hell of a job making each character come alive.  Yes, some of this includes acting out the stereotypes that the character represents, but the voice actor nails the tone of each character.  The music is absolutely forgettable.  I actually had to force myself to listen to it for this review, and it is just very generic background music to cover over the silence between character dialogue.  In other words, it works for its purpose but you won’t remember any of it.

Final Thoughts

Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry  is a good game.  It is a very solid point and click adventure game and is also a very solid entry into the Leisure Suit Larry franchise.  Taking the nostalgia factor out for a second, Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry ticks off all the right boxes to be a successful point and click game:  the humor is decent, the game play is solid, the story line is mediocre to decent, and the graphics and voice acting to a good job in bringing the world to life.  If you only have ever played the first Leisure Suit Larry game, then this game is perfect for you, since it forgets the other 8 games that are out on the market.  If you are a fan of the series, then this game is already on your Steam library.  Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry is available now via Steam for $29.99.