Author - Judgeman

Insurmountable – A Review (PC)

One of the pleasures of doing this type of job is getting to review a game that you would normally pass right by, and finding out that the game was an absolute gem.  I will start this review by saying that Insurmountable isn’t a game for everyone, but it is an enjoyable and challenging game nonetheless.  Developed and published by ByteRockers’ Games, Insurmountable is the most unique and challenging roguelike game I have ever played.

Story

The story line in Insurmountable is well done, if not exactly in a narrative style.  You begin your trek into Insurmountable by choosing a class: adventurer, scientist, or journalist.  Each class has a different set of beginning equipment and skills, and a different reason for making this journey across 4 separate mountains.  I chose the scientist for my playthrough, and the scientist was set to explore the mountain, in search of an undiscovered source of electromagnetic energy that can power the world.  You task was to scale the mountain, in search of this new energy source.

As you climb, you will encounter different events along the way, that will flesh out the story of your ascension.  These events are told via text, and allow you to make some choices that will affect your various statuses.  I will discuss the gameplay aspects of these events in the next section, but these events will make up your entire story.  In my first climb, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time looking for resources since I had plenty at the bottom of the mountain, but became much more desperate to survive as I got closer to the summit, to the point where I even raided another climber’s camp for food and warmth.  It did me no good, however, as I still died on the descent, just 4 hexes away from my goal.

Taking this route in terms of the storytelling, means that no two runs will ever be the same and keeps that roguelike feel that we are all used to.  I personally felt that this was a much more engaging way to tell this story, and let my imagination run wild as I watched my little guy try to climb this massive mountain.  If you are looking for the perfect chill roguelike, Insurmountable is your game.

Game Play

Insurmountable is built like most roguelikes out on the market today, but does not have any combat or enemies to speak of.  The mountain is your enemy, and the combat is you battling the elements to prevent from dying.  After you have chosen your class, you begin your trek up the mountain.  Each mountain is procedurally generated, so no two runs will be the same.  You will have 5 bars that you will need to worry about as you climb: oxygen, sanity, stamina, temperature, and health.  The health bar is the most important bar, as when that is completely gone, you die.

Movement is pretty simple, you select the hex you want to move to and your stamina bar will preview how much stamina you will lose in climbing to that hex.  You will also see which hexes are treacherous terrain and may cause a critical event or health damage.  You will see icons all over the mountain as you climb, each icon representing a different event such as a cave that you can rest in, or an area to search for possible supplies.

Your climber can find equipment as they scale the mountain, and has a set inventory that you will need to manage.  Equipment can be food that will replenish stamina, oxygen tanks that will help you breathe better, or pieces of equipment that can reduce stamina cost as you climb.  You also have a tent that you can use to rest in, but it will degrade the more you use it, until you are sleeping on the side of the mountain in just your bag.  There is a day and night cycle as you climb that you need to be aware of.  It becomes harder to climb at night as you get higher due to the freezing temperatures.

As you climb up the mountain, you will gain experience and level up.  Each time you level up,  you can gain a new skill that will assist you in your climb.  Many of these skills are active skills with a set cooldown, counted in hours.  Other skills are passive and will just make your life and climb easier.

Aesthetics

I found Insurmountable to be a visually stunning game.  The game is played from an isometric point of view, to allow you to see some of the mountain but not all of it at one time.  The weather changes as you climb, and will affect your game play since it will affect how much stamina and temperature you will lose.  The music of Insurmountable is the perfect soundtrack for this type of game.  It reminds me of the music from Minecraft, in the way that it is calm and soothing, even as you watch your sanity bar reach 0.

Final Thoughts

Insurmountable is a very challenging game, don’t let the lack of bosses or enemies fool you.  You must plan your moves very carefully based on your skills and currently equipment load out, if you hope to survive the 4 mountains you need to climb in one life.  The soft, melodic music is there to lull you into a false sense of security, as the biting cold and harsh conditions drains your sanity even before you have reached the summit, then you still have to reach base camp before moving onto the next peak.  This is a great game that will stimulate your mind and challenge your problem solving skills, but can be used as a nice, laid back, chill type of game.  It will not be for everyone, but for those of you out there that thinks this sounds right up your alley, you will not be disappointed.  Insurmountable is available now on Steam.

Review of Square Enix’s OUTRIDERS (PC)

Outriders is a cooperative, third person online looter shooter game from developer People Can Fly and publisher Square Enix.  Similar to games like Destiny or Borderlands, Outriders core game play is centered around the item drops that a player can earn from playing the game, but also centers around a third person cover system similar to Gears of War.  However, there is a lot more going on in Outriders then this, so let’s take a deeper look with our review of the game on PC.

Story

The story in Outriders centers around the destruction of the Earth due to massive climate and environmental damage.  The Earth’s governments pulled together to create two massive starships, the Flores and the Caravel, to take part of humanity to a new planet called Enoch.  However, before the journey could begin, a fatal error occurred on the Caravel, causing its destruction.  This left only the Flores to complete the trip to Enoch.

Once the Flores arrives at Enoch, the forward exploration teams were sent to the planet to retrieve the forward probes sent by the Enoch Colonization Authority (ECA).  This forward team, called outriders, arrived at the planet surface and found that Enoch was not as habitable as earlier thought, as a storm called the Anomaly rampages across the surface, decimating most of what it touches.  In some cases, humans touched by the Anomaly are not killed, but changed and become Altered, humans with superpowers.  You play as one of these Outriders who survived your first contact with the Anomaly, to become Altered.  Your team heads back to base camp to warn the others about the Anomaly and want to hold off the landing, however, you and your team are branded as traitors and enter into conflict with the ECA, who are moving ahead with the landing as it cannot be stopped.  You are wounded and placed into cryosleep in hopes that this will save your life.  The game really begins with you waking up almost 30 years later, with the face of Enoch completely changed due to a massive civil war between the ECA and the rest of humanity called Insurgents.  Your mission is to try to use your new found powers to find the last probe, and hopefully make Enoch the paradise that is was supposed to be for humanity.

Outriders first felt like every other future space dystopian shooter out there, with little to differentiate itself from games like Destiny or Borderlands, but that feeling didn’t last long for me.  Outriders story is easily it’s strongest element, and we will get into where the game falters a little more down the road, but let’s sing some praises first.  The world and it’s characters feel lived in and real.  You will reconnect with old characters that had to change and adapt after 3o years of conflict, while meeting new characters that have never known anything different.  I enjoyed how my Outrider interacted with people, and his mannerisms, humor, and cynicism seemed appropriate to his character.  I had no desire to skip any dialogues scenes between my Outrider and the world around him, which is unusual for me.

Outriders also is very generous with journal entries and items that can be found throughout the game that helps tell the story of Enoch and the civil war.  These entries can either be given to you when you encounter something new, or can be found as floating blue pages while exploring the world.  Either way, you gain a new journal entry that will tell you more about Enoch and its’ inhabitants.  The mythology, history, and world building in Outriders offers a lot to anyone who is willing to do some reading, and really makes the world feel much more lived in and real as you play through the campaign.

Game Play

So, Outriders has a great story, but how does it play?  Let’s go ahead and talk about the elephant in the room first, shall we?  Outriders is considered an online only game, meaning that it must be connected to the internet to play it.  If you do not have internet access, you cannot play Outriders.  The sad part is, there is no reason for this online only trait for the game at all, until you get to end game and choose to play in the expedition raids.  Normally, I would not care if a game is online only or not, but when a game has such bad connections and server issues at launch, like Outriders did, then it matters greatly.  Outriders was almost unplayable for the first few days after launch, even wiping some of my progress.  I was actually disconnected right after a boss fight in which I got my first legendary, then had to replay the fight just to have zero legendaries drop the second time.  The dev team has been working on stabilizing these servers, and it is much better today, but this still needs to be addressed as a huge design flaw for the game.

Outside of that, the core game play for Outriders is to work your way through a series of arena and sections of maps that are all connected by fast travel points, completing various main and side missions to progress through the story.  Along the way, you can complete contract work, such as bounties or collection quests, that will reward you with better weapons and armor.  Outriders is not an open world game, so each section is centered around your camp of allies that will take care of your basic needs.  These include storage access, vendors, place to mod your equipment and vehicle, and ammo refill stations.  You can fast travel between travel points on the map that you are currently in, or use your vehicle to travel to another campsite or town to turn in quests.

Outriders does have some elements of an rpg here for character design.  As you level up, you have 4 main classes you can choose from: Trickster, Devastator, Pyromancer, and Technomancer.  Each of these classes have distinct advantages over the others.  I chose to play as a Technomancer for my first play through.  The Technomancer is the long range fighter, who is also the support class and uses gadgets.  Then each class has 3 subclasses you can gain skills in.  For the Technomancer, those were Pestilence, Tech Shamen, and Demolisher.  I followed the Tech Shaman path for this character and loved the way he played.  There is a lot of customization that can be done to your character, and having these many options is a great way to play the game your way.

Combat feels mostly like a Gears of War game.  You will walk along your pathway, then see an open space with cover set in an obvious pattern to suggest combat is coming.  As you enter the space, red dots form on your mini map, and you grab some cover to kill everyone in your path, then open up the next area, rinse, repeat.  Some arenas are much more open, especially when you are fighting larger monsters or completing the beast contracts, but whenever you fight humanoid enemies, the arenas are incredibly obvious when you enter them.  This is the most tedious part of the game, you really do just move from one arena to the other, killing everything in your path, then moving onto your next objective.  I wanted to progress the story and see what happens next, but having to do the same thing over and over does kill the joy I have for Outriders.

The enemies you will face will come in a few different flavors, but can all be identified visually to help you predict their behavior.  You have your common minions, who will hide behind cover and shoot at you, and your common snipers who will sit in the back and fire at you with single shot rifles.  Next up, you have a couple of rushers that are designed to keep you from staying behind your cover for too long, one heavily armored and one that isn’t.  These are incredibly annoying and will force you to change up your game plan.  Your first move will be to fall back, however, the game will only allow you to move back so far before it resets the conflict, which is frustrating to say the least.  Finally, you have your mini bosses and bosses, which are all Altered and have special powers, which can sometimes be interrupted.  Fighting these guys solo means you need to manage your interrupts to help you through the fight, but sometimes these powers cannot be interrupted, which then means you are screwed, plain and simple.

Lastly, I wanted to touch on the world tier system for Outriders, which I thought was brilliant.  You begin the game at World Tier 1 and, as you progress, you will earn experience not only for your character but for your World Tier.  When your World Tier levels up, you gain access to a new world tier and some rewards to go with that new access.  The World Tier sets the difficulty for the game, so the lower the World Tier is, the easier the game will be, but the less impressive your loot will be as well.  I was able to level my World Tier to six before I started to run into significant issues, then would play the game mostly between World Tier 3 and 4, but would go lower if I was having specific issues with a particular boss.  Having this scalable difficulty level is fantastic and is a great addition to the game.  Players can play and whatever level they feel comfortable with.

Aesthetics

The aesthetics for Outriders is all over the place.  I loved the voice acting, especially from the main male character, and thought that the voice acting really helped create three dimensional characters that I cared about.  However, some of the armor sets and items looked positively strange on my avatar.  There was something about how my wrists would look like they were boneless is certain gloves, or how my arms would look too long in certain sets.  My hair would also pop out of certain helmets, making it look like moss on top while I was wearing a full face covering.

I also ran into quite a few graphical glitches during game play.  For a significant run in the middle of the game, the enemies refused to fire their weapons at me, but I was still taking damage and getting hit.  This did work itself out, but man for a few hours there it was hard to get through the game when you can see who is shooting at you.

The scenery and environments are outstanding, and looked great at Ultra settings, though I did run into some fuzziness sometimes but a quick reload and that cleared up.  You have the ability to kind of customize your Outrider, but the character creation isn’t very robust.  You get to select sex, face, hair, and a few details, but your character still feels like they tower over everyone else and is just oddly proportioned.

Final Thoughts

Outriders is a hard game to pin down.  Do I like the game? Yes, sorta.  Is it fun? Yes, kind of.  I feel like my opinion on the game is pulled into a few different directions when I think about how much I either like or find tedious.  There is a lot going on here in Outriders, I feel like they took all of their ideas and implemented every one of them into the core game play.  I think the game could have been made better by focusing on a few core ideas and really polishing those to perfection.  I love the options for classes and the subclass trees and I love the World Tier system.  I love the voice acting and the character development along with the main story line.  I found the cover to cover arena style game play to be tedious, as well as the arbitrary invisible wall system when I try to fall back.  The always online aspect of the game is stupid, and does nothing for someone like me who is playing the game solo.  Overall, Outriders is a good game, despite it’s tediousness and bugs.  I would still recommend the game for anyone who enjoyed Destiny, especially.  Outriders is available now for $59.99.

Curse of the Dead Gods – A Review (Xbox One)

Curse of the Dead Gods is the newest entry into the roguelike game genre from Passtech games and Focus Interactive.  Prior to playing Curse of the Dead Gods, I was honestly not aware of the genre or these types of games being called roguelike.  I had been watching others playing Hades on Twitch, and made the immediate comparisons even before loading up Curse of the Dead Gods.  However, Curse of the Dead Gods proved to be a deeper and more richer experiences then I was prepared for.  What initially looked like a Hades clone, ended up being its own amazing experience.

Story

Unlike HadesCurse of the Dead Gods does not have much of a story or any type of character progression arc.  You are tossed into a cursed dungeon and must rely on journal entries to find out more about the enemies that inhabit each dungeon you explore.  The game begins by showing the main character lighting a torch and walking into a cave entrance.  You are playing as Caradog McCallister, an English explorer armed with a machete and a Webley pistol, exploring lost and ancient ruins in the 19th century.  Just for clarification, this information isn’t given to you in the cut scene, but from journal entries and Passtech’s website.  From there, you start your first run through the Jaguar Temple, one of 3 different types of dungeons.

The entirety of Curse of the Dead Gods must rely on its game play and aesthetics to really  hold the interest of the player, and it does this successfully.  If you want to find out more about the enemies you face that are protecting these temples, then really the only thing you get is the journal entries which are filled out as you kill more of certain types of enemies.  Other then that, don’t worry too much about the why behind the game and just enjoy the ride.

Game Play

Curse of the Dead Gods has all the familiar parts of a roguelike game at first.  You work your way through procedurally generated dungeons, collecting gold, weapons, and upgrades that make you stronger with each run.  You can use crystal skulls and jade armbands that you find in your run to purchase permanent upgrades to your arsenal and character, but weapons you find during your runs will disappear once you die.

There is a lot more here, however, then that.  There is an actual curse that you have to worry about during your run. It isn’t called Curse of the Dead Gods for nothing.  As you progress through the temple, you will need to make decisions that will increase your curse level.  Opening doors, using blood as an offering, healing at certain fountains, fighting in the dark, all of these could increase your curse level.  Once your curse level reaches 100, you gain a random curse that will affect your ability to run through the dungeon.  These increase in severity with the more curses you gain, finally with a real nasty one at curse level 5.  The last level 5 curse I had received was particularly nasty, especially just before I reached the boss fight.  It had my health levels constantly draining until I reached 1 hp.  You can remove curse levels by killing bosses, so it becomes a battle to manage your curse level with your progression through the temple.

Another major difference that Curse of the Dead Gods has over other games, is the progression of difficulty with the temples.  When you first start the game, you are only given the first nine levels of the Jaguar Temple.  These nine levels represent the first floor.  Once you beat that floor, then you unlock the second floor, and finally the third floor before you unlock the temple in its entirety.  As I said earlier, you also have 3 different temples to work through.  These are Jaguar, Eagle and Snake.  Each temple not only has different aesthetics, but enemies as well that really will change how you play the game.  Snake, for instance, really goes all in with poisonous enemies.

Combat, in Curse of the Dead Gods, is the epitome of “simple to learn, hard to master”.  You begin with 3 items, a torch to light your way, a melee weapon, and a range weapon.  As you work through the temple, you may find a heavy weapon as well.  You also have 5 diamonds under your character, which represents your stamina.  You attack your foes with various combinations of melee, range, and heavy attacks with each of these attacks having the option to be charged up.  You also have the ability to dodge and block incoming attacks, with perfect blocks and dodges refilling your stamina meter.  Managing all of these attacks becomes crucial in trying to save your health bar from dipping to low before you reach the boss.  The more health you lose in a run, means the more you need to increase your curse level to heal, which could mean more negative aspects that will affect your health, and so on and so on.  You can also lock onto enemies by clicking in the right stick, which helps in some of the more chaotic fights.

The final thing I want to mention is the temple itself, it is loaded with traps and other dangerous environment features that will really throw you for a loop if you are not careful.  Spike traps on the floor, statues that will take a swing at you as you pass by, and heads that will spit out flame will all cause you to have a bad time.  However, these traps can also hit your enemies too.  You will need to learn how to dance around these traps, and lure your enemies into them if you are going to preserve your health and reach the boss.

Aesthetics

I personally love the aesthetics of Curse of the Dead Gods.  The visuals of the game really remind me of another of my favorite games, Darkest Dungeon.  In fact, at times I kept waiting for the voice of the narrator to come in and describe my new curse to me as I was playing.  Curse of the Dead Gods gives me old Diablo vibes at times as well, which is never a negative.  The look of each temple is based on Mayan culture, but given a darker fantasy spin on it.  However, you can definitely see where the influence here is coming from.  The name of the bosses, the style of each temple, even the animals that the temples represent, all stem from MesoAmerican culture and belief.  While I do not want to get into the deeper conversation of colonialism and the robbing of ancient native temples by Europeans, just be aware that this is present in Curse of the Dead Gods and you should decide if that makes you uncomfortable or not.

Final Thoughts

This game is good!  Really good!  Curse of the Dead Gods will scratch that itch for a roguelike game if you haven’t found one you truly like yet.  From the dark, MesoAmerican art style, to the inclusion of the curse system, Curse of the Dead Gods has everything I never knew I wanted out of a roguelike game.  Of course, it helps that it also makes me feel like I’m playing a game sent in the Darkest Dungeon universe.  Curse of the Dead Gods will give you a proper challenge, deep gameplay, but never feel like it’s too overwhelming at all.  You are supposed to be weak for your first few runs at the first boss, but keep trying and you will build up enough resources to by some nice upgrades.  At first, managing my curse level was difficult, but you have to get better at combat, so you don’t have to take too many curses during your playthrough.  Curse of the Dead Gods is available now for $19.99.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate – A Review (Xbox One)

In similar NetherRealm Studios fashion, Mortal Kombat 11 is being wrapped up with an Ultimate edition.  This Ultimate edition takes all four major releases and puts it all into one game, for those of you that have been waiting to pick this game up.   Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate contains the base game, both Kombat Packs, and Aftermath, all contained in one green Xbox game case.  Let’s take a closer look at what all comes in this newest edition of Mortal Kombat 11.

Story

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate tells the full story of what happens in Mortal Kombat 11 with the included expansion Aftermath.  Raiden begins the story by decapitating Shinnok, and then setting out to destroy all of his enemies.  The decapitation of Shinnok inspires Kronika, Shinnok’s mother, to rewrite history in order to protect her son and to erase Raiden’s interference.  This sets into motion the formation of a series of alliances, Raiden with Earthrealm and Kronika with Netherrealm, for each side to gain strength in the upcoming struggle.  The first part of the story ends with the final battle between Liu Kang and Kronika for the fate of time and the universe.

Aftermath picks right up where the base game leaves off, with the defeat of Kronika at the hands of Liu Kang.  Liu Kang and Raiden are interrupted in their attempts to balance history by Shang Tsung, Nightwolf, and Fujin.  Shang Tsung tells Liu Kang that Liu Kang cannot control Kronika’s hourglass without the Crown of Souls, which was destroyed in the battle.  Shang Tsung convinces Liu Kang to send the trio back in time to steal the Crown of Souls before Cetrion recovers it.  Nightwolf, Shang Tsung, and Fujin return to the past and attempt not to meddle in the events of the first half of Mortal Kombat 11.  Ultimately, Shang Tsung betrays his temporary comrades and claims the Crown of Souls for himself, setting up a final battle between he and Liu Kang for the fate of the universe.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate contains the entire story of this iteration of Mortal Kombat, all in one location.  However, if you own either the base game or Aftermath, there is nothing new here in terms of story.  Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate, story wise, is best for those that have yet to buy the base game to play this edition.  Those of you that have waited to get into Mortal Kombat 11 are now rewarded with the full story for one price.

Game Play

Similar to what I said regarding the story, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate has it all in terms of game play.  Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate has the full roster of all combatants in the game, alternate skins that were found in the other Kombat Packs, tons of stages, stage fatalities, friendships, and both story modes.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate has a grand total of 37 fighters available, including the 3 new fighters that were released for this version of the game:  Mileena, Rain and John Rambo.  Mileena and Rain are very welcomed addition to the Mortal Kombat roster, as they are some of the more classic Mortal Kombat fighters on this roster.  Mileena first made her appearance way back in Mortal Kombat II, while Rain debuted in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.  Both play very well, and I love the new aesthetics of Rain that help separate him from his classic origins of being just another ninja color swap.  John Rambo finishes NetherRealm Studios’ obsession with 80’s action heroes for Mortal Kombat.  Rambo joins other 80’s icons, such as RoboCop and the Terminator, in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate and is probably my least favorite to play out of the new fighters for this edition.  Rambo feels slow and sluggish compared to the other fighters, and I just couldn’t quite get into him as a character.  I do love how NetherRealm picks a theme and goes with it when it comes to their dlc characters, but he’s my least favorite of the bunch.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate also gives you all the other features that were released throughout the series, including the Kombat Pack skins for the characters that were released through the packs.  These are nice additions to the game and let’s you really customize your fighters to fit your own personal aesthetics.  Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate also has the full list of stages that has been released for the game, which included the stage fatalities that were released in Aftermath.  Stage fatalities are fun and add more variety to how you can dispatch your opponents, but the real fun comes with the new Friendships that were also released in Aftermath.  Tired of seeing so much blood on your screen at the end of a fight?  Be friends instead!  Friendships first appeared in Mortal Kombat II along with my other favorite, Babalities.  These were two ways that the Mortal Kombat developers kind of made fun of the public outcry to the blood and gore of their franchise.  Friendships are back, and some of them are really funny.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate has it all.  Any feature or character that has been released for Mortal Kombat 11 can be found here.  This is the most complete and best version of the game in terms of features and characters.

Aesthetics

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate doesn’t bring anything new to the game in terms of aesthetics, unless you own an Xbox One X/S.  There is a free graphical upgrade for owners of the next gen Xbox console, but for the rest of us schlubs we get the same version of the game that has been out for a while.  The looks and sounds of the 3 new characters are nice, and I really like the upgrade to Rain’s look.  Rain started off as a color swap for Sub-Zero/Scorpion back in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 but now has a much more Indian look to his aesthetic, including using a katar as a weapon.  I really love this new look for him, as I do the rest of the other ninjas.

Mileena’s aesthetic follows the trend to put some more clothes back onto the female characters, but it still feels like something Mileena would wear.  Her biggest change to her appearance comes with her mouth this time.  Mileena is back to the mouth full of razor teeth, similar to Baraka’s look, instead of the almost normal human mouth with extra side teeth like she had in Mortal Kombat X.  It’s a call back to her classic look, which I am fine with.

John Rambo is designed to look like his appearance in First Blood.  John Rambo is a Vietnam vet that suffers from PTSD and has crossed over into the Mortal Kombat Universe.  Rambo’s looks matches his similar looks from the movie, but are still made to fit in with the rest of the roster of characters.  It’s his voice, however, that gets me.  There is something just off in how the voice actor sounds when comparing to Sylvester Stallone.  Maybe Stallone just has one of those types of voices that is iconic and hard to reproduce, but it feels off to me.

Final Thoughts

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is the best version of the game that you can buy right now, especially if you haven’t bought anything Mortal Kombat 11 in the past.  If you own the base game, or any of the other packs that has been released, then your mileage for Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate will vary.  You can buy each item separate as needed to recreate what is in this package, based on what you already own.  I feel that this is the best Mortal Kombat game released in some time.  The additional features that has been added in Aftermath, along with the two full stories you can play and the large amount of fighters to choose from really makes Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate the best version to own.  If you have waited for the complete package to buy Mortal Kombat 11, now is the time to pick it up.  Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is available now for $59.99.

Death Stranding – A Review (PC)

When you talk about the top video game designers of all time, there is one name that is universally mentioned in the top five, and that is Hideo Kojima.  For most of his career, Hideo Kojima has worked for Konami, designing and developing some of Konami’s biggest hits.  Known mostly for his creation and development of the Metal Gear franchise, Hideo Kojima was set to branch out with this work on PT however that project was canceled and Hideo Kojima left Konami.  Operating as a new, independent entity Kojima Studios created their first game for release, called Death Stranding.  

Story

Oh, where to begin….

Death Stranding is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, after a devastating event that caused only a handful of groups of humanity to survive.  You play as Sam Bridges Porter, a mail man of sorts, tasked with the reconnection of these groups of humanity across what was formally the United States of America.  Sam must do this by completing tasks and deliveries for this groups to regain their trust and connect them back to the “Chiral Network”, a government network that helps groups communicate.

This is a monumental task by itself, however, Sam will be tested in many ways by facing not only the vast space in between settlements, but will also need to be wary of humans that don’t want to be reconnected to the network, rain that will accelerate time of anything that it touches and BTs.  Look, human survivors that want my blood I can deal with, but these BTs (Beached Things) are something different entirely.  BTs are nearly invisible, paranormal entities that will attack anyone that comes near.  It is the BTs that has caused humanity to live in small, structured cities instead of expanding as much as they could.  Sam does have a few advantages that helps him maneuver around the BTs:   a backpack that will point to the nearest one, a baby in a jar that will help in detection called BB, and the ability to resurrect when killed.

Like most of Kojima’s games, Death Stranding is ambitious in its storytelling.  In the first 3 hours of gameplay, you only have control of Sam twice to complete the tutorial missions, the rest is cut scenes setting the stage for your massive journey.  If you have played any of the most recent Metal Gear games then you are used to Kojima’s story telling style.  A lot of times I will just hear something that I’m not familiar with, in hopes that it will be explained later.  Sometimes it is and sometimes I will need to do more research to understand what is going on.  However, this is one game that the story truly is the centerpiece of the production.

Game Play

The game play for Death Stranding is an interesting thing to describe.  If I was going to come up with an alternative name for Death Stranding that best described how it played, it would be called “Walking Simulator and Inventory Management:  The Video Game”.  Death Stranding is a series of objectives and missions that you must complete in order to progress the story line, like pretty much most of the games out there.  There are optional missions that you can also complete for extra items and gear, but these are apart from the main story line.  The biggest difference is that you will actually need to walk from point A to point B, over grueling terrain, avoiding BTs, and managing your inventory as you go along.  The best way to describe most of the game play of Death Stranding is that it is an endurance test, not for Sam but for you, the player.  It’s a good thing this game is so damn pretty, because you are going to be looking at a lot of terrain.

The inventory system is also a test for the player in Death Stranding, but this time a test to see what you are willing to keep or toss out.  Most gamers are pack rats, we pick up items that we think might be useful down the road.  In Death Stranding, the more you pick up, the more encumbered you become, the slower you walk.  You will need to manage everything in your inventory, and I mean everything.  Everything has a weight and takes up a set amount of space that you need to be aware of, which will slow you down, making this very long walk even longer.  You will face decisions constantly of either pushing ahead and walking like an overburdened elephant for the next hour, or backtracking and returning to town to shed some of your inventory.  When overburdened, you will need to use the triggers of your controller to help shift your weight and maintain balance.  This becomes a constant fight with all of the material you have stacked on your back as you walk, making the journey that more treacherous and laborious.

Combat isn’t much of a thing through the first part of Death Stranding, but does ramp up later in the game.  This is where the Metal Gear influence felt the most strongest to me.  You will be able to do stealth takedowns pretty early, but as the story progresses and your gear gets better, you will be able to choose different ways to engage with the human enemies you encounter.  Combat felt right in Death Stranding, like an old friend.  While it doesn’t do everything you want it to do, combat in Death Stranding is a huge relief to the rest of the walking and managing inventories that you have done up to that point.

Aesthetics

This game is gorgeous, simply put.  It is the only reason that a walking simulator will get played as much as it does, because every time you walk outside you are hit in the face with gorgeous terrain that you want to explore.  While my PC is a few years old at this point, it surpassed the recommended settings so I could run the game at a pretty high level of graphics without much issue.  As with all major PC game releases, I would suggest checking out the minimum and recommended specs for Death Stranding before purchasing it to make sure your pc will be able to run it.  This may be more important with a game like Death Stranding, since the terrain beauty is the only thing that will keep your mind off of the gruelling miles you need to walk while flicking the triggers to keep from falling over.

Voice acting is top notch, as in most of Kojima’s games.  Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) plays Sam, and plays him very well.  While Sam looks exactly like Norman Reedus due to the photo capture of the actor’s face, there is still something off with how humans look in video games to me.  It’s in the eyes, they still look lifeless, soulless.  However, that’s easy to not notice with a game this pretty.  Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) is also in this game, playing the coroner named Deadman.  Again, the actor/director nails his roll and looks good doing it.

Final Thoughts

Death Stranding is the most beautiful, interesting and boring video game you will play this year.  You will be mesmerized by the gorgeous graphics, intrigued by the story, bored by the walking, and frustrated by the inventory system.  I have played great games that had no story, this is a great game that has very little to offer in terms of gameplay.  I do recommend Death Stranding as a game to play, especially in this day and age when we may not be able to get out and go for a walk.  Just be prepared to change gears in your game playing mentality, especially if you come from a game like Call of Duty or Apex Legends.  Death Stranding is a great way to take a break from the frantic game play of the modern shooter, but be prepared for that shift.  Death Stranding is available now for PC through Steam for $59.99.

Dustoff Z – A Review (PC)

Dustoff Z is an upcoming flying, shooter from developer Invictus Games and Zordix Publishing.  The latest game in the Dustoff series, Dustoff Z is set during a zombie apocalypse where you pilot a helicopter to rescue survivors, find supplies, or take on zombie bosses.   This being my first Dustoff game, I had no idea what to expect going in, and I can say that I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

Story

The one thing that Dustoff Z does poorly is tell a compelling story.  I hate to start off with a negative during this review, but promise that it will be all uphill from here.  The intro to Dustoff Z starts off with the protagonist sitting near a police helicopter, when zombies appear and attack.  You fly off, with your partner firing at the zombie horde and the game begins.  However, the game doesn’t begin right were the intro ends, instead you are now flying a makeshift helicopter, made out of car parts and other junk, and are safely within a fortified area while the rest of the world burns in the zombie apocalypse.

The story line progresses from there, kind of.  There are some cutscenes, but they really don’t tell you about a story or what your goals are as a whole, more like they are designed to break up the game levels with something different.  For me, the lack of an intriguing story isn’t a deal breaker.  I have played and loved many games that were about as deep as a frying pan.  When a story is almost non-existent, however, the game has got to grab you in other ways, and Dustoff Z does just that.

Game Play

One of the main reasons why Dustoff Z really grabbed me is how similar it is in game play to one of my favorite games as a kid, Choplifter.  The essential game play of Dustoff Z is centered around flying your helicopter around and completing objectives.  These objectives will vary depending on the level, from picking up survivors, to escorting convoys, and picking up supplies to build walls.  Most of these levels will award you 0 to 3 stars, depending on how well you accomplish what you needed to do.  Other levels will see how well you did something and award you based on that, then allow you to replay that mission to beat your score.  For instance, how long can you escort a convoy under heavy attack.

The basic game play seems simple enough, but the devil is in the details with Dustoff Z.  As you fly around, you have to manage three things:  your fuel, your health, and your ammo.  You also need to hire your gunners for each mission, and each gunner has different weaponry with different stats and abilities.  To refill any of these meters, you must kill zombies beneath or above you and they have a chance to drop items that will refill one of the three meters.  The other option is to land at a helipad if you run across one and save your progress.  Once saved, all your meters are automatically recharged.  At the end of each mission, you earn money, food and gears that will allow you to upgrade your gunners and helicopter.  You can also find and unlock different paint jobs along the way.  As you progress in the game, you will unlock different helicopters and gunners, all with different abilities and stats.

Where Dustoff Z really shines for me, though, is the physics of the game play.  Sure, you can shoot at the zombies below you, but man is it a little more satisfying to drop buildings or containers on the lot of them.  Environments are interactable and items can be grabbed with the winch of your helicopter and swung around.  However, swinging items like that will also affect the flight path of your helicopter, making it tougher to maneuver.  Having zombies climb up and grab your helicopter affects the way it flies as well, and having too many zombies grab you will drag the copter down to the ground.  Death is a minor set back, however, as you can pay 50 coins for an immediate resurrection right at the spot you died, or choose to save your money and restart the level.

I’m not sure if it was purely the nostalgia feeling of Dustoff Z reminding me of playing Choplifter on the Apple IIe or what, but I really enjoyed the game play and the physics of this game.  The early levels were deceptively easy, and had lulled me into a false sense of security.  As the levels progressed, so did the difficulty curve, whether it was more zombies being thrown at you or having to maneuver your copter through tighter and tighter spaces.

Aesthetics

Dustoff Z’s aesthetics are a series of interesting choices.  Most of the game looks like Crossy Road got invaded by the undead and armed itself.  The people have no real faces to speak of; no eyes, no noses, but will have facial hair.  The zombies are the same way, but look more like you are being attacked by a horde of orcs rather then the actual undead.  The zombies are varied in their appearance, which is great.  You will run into zombies with wings, zombies with bombs, zombies with machine gun arms, zombie sharks, and 50 foot zombie bosses wielding shields.  The graphics are done in a very cartoony way, but one that fits the overall aesthetic and makes the game enjoyable rather then detracts, like other games that I have played within the last year.

The sound design is done well.  The sound effects do the job in making the game riveting.  The music is pretty much unforgettable, so nothing really special there.  I was surprised to hear that the characters are fully voiced over during the cutscenes and gameplay.  This was a welcome surprise, however, I did find that the gunner chatter became repetitive during the gameplay.  The voice acting isn’t the greatest there is either, but it does the job.

Final Thoughts

Dustoff Z is a fun, arcade style game that offers a nice challenge in quick and easy bites.  It’s the type of game that you intend to play only for a few moments while you have some spare time, but find yourself sinking in far more than you expected just to beat the level that’s been giving you a headache for the last ten minutes.  While nowhere near perfect, Dustoff Z is just pure fun, but that may be due to its similarity to one of my old favorite games that I played as a kid.  There is no real storyline, no real character arc, and the voice acting is pretty bad, but Dustoff Z is still worth a look, in my opinion, especially if you are looking for a light arcade type shooter.  Dustoff Z will be released for PC on October 15th on Steam.

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.