Author - Ripper71

Tom Clancey’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Review

One of the first things that has to be said is that Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is beautiful to look at: the environment is complete eye candy while also serving a purpose. Every vehicle is very detailed and destructable, it doesn’t just go from fine to exploded you see damage from bullet holes to blown radiators or crumpled quarter panels. It’s really the subtle things throughout the forest that show the dedication to the world. Different surfaces make different noises when you traverse them. If a cliff has any holds that might be climbed then you can do so. If an enemy patrol is passing you can lay prone and cover yourself with dirt, mud, or plants to better camouflage yourself. If you are running across snow or down a ridge and you get going too fast, you trip and start tumbling. If something would make bad cover to stand behind in real life then it isn’t going to do much better in the game. You go into complexes and industrial structures, there are a lot of Cold War Era buildings suggesting that this island may have been mostly a series of secret military installations that were abandoned, and all of it is rendered beautifully.

It’s not just eye candy it is also ear candy where it sounds like they got sample from the weapons themselves bringing a great realism to them as well, you can hear the difference between a slightly silenced weapon and a better silenced one and you can tell a difference in the sound of each weapon to the point you could tell which one it is with your eyes closed. This is pretty much expected of games these days but it should still be appreciated. And the voice acting of Jon Bernthal of The Walking Dead and “Marvel’s The Punisher” Netflix series is outstanding – even if underutilized.

The weapon system keeps you constantly upgrading which is good but only has so many different guns to choose from. It’s nice because you don’t spend the whole game trying to find some obscure weapon instead the weapons have an almost RPG style of upgrading, you find common ones up to epic class but it is the same weapon at its core. The best parts of the weapon system is you can open the gunsmithing window on the go which allows you to dismantle old weapons for parts to use as upgrades to your weapons such as better silencers, scopes and rail attachments. So when you find a new weapon you like better you can apply the attachments you want for that particular gun and the game saves it to the gun not the slot. So for example if you have a sniper rifle with long scope and muzzle flash guard if you load a machine gun in that slot it will have whatever you saved on the machine gun like a red dot scope and extended magazine. If you take a couple minutes and go through and set up all your guns in your inventory to how you want them you will be able to use them on the fly. It would have been fun to have a few obscure weapons to find but since these games try for more realism that just wouldn’t make sense for this franchise.

Another aspect that the game borrowed from RPGs is the skill system where you select a class then add skill points to the sub talents. The skill classes are Field Medic, Sharpshooter, Assault, and Panther and some sub-classes such as Gas Grenade, Cloak And Run and Healing Drone. Though you commit to a class you can then choose from overlapping subclass choices so you don’t find yourself in a strict adherence to the classes’ overall themes. This means just because you like to sniper a lot doesn’t mean you don’t need some armor busting skills when you find yourself fighting up close and personal. One of the best things in this game is bivouac locations that allow you to basically rest up, make changes to your builds, buy and sell weapons and a few other handy dandy things so you don’t have to run across the map to the starting base every time you want to make a change. The game even has fast travel to located bivouacs so if you have some friends come on and want to play with them but everyone seems to be set up as snipers you can change your class setup to what works best for the group. Breakpoint is strongly about having options on how you play which actually makes sense, real world counter-terrorist operators know the plan from everybody’s position so if a teammate goes down the rest of the team can pick up the slack.

This brings me to one point of contention that will be fairly universal and that is this game has a definite pay-to-win aspect to it. You can buy the higher additions of the game but there are still tons of micro-transactions that can do more than just add to the aesthetics of the game. If you are willing to spend lots of money you can get any weapon, attachment or vehicle by purchasing it with real world money. Some of the things such as special patches, camo patterns, emotes or tattoos are just for looks and fun which I am all for, I have done that many times myself. I once had a Santa Claus costume in a FPS and I kept yelling “The naughty no longer get coal for Christmas now they get lead!” then some other player gets wasted by Santa but I didn’t shoot him with “The Naughty Gun” or something with huge bonuses. It was just for fun and there are several things in the store like that. If you want to spend money on more useful things you can buy attack helicopters that you can spawn and tear havoc death from above across a map. You can buy all the guns and all the attachments so if you want you can start the game with everything so that players who have been struggling to get something to attach to their gun’s rails through lots of game play are at a disadvantage. The argument can be made that if you are patient and dedicate enough time to the game you can get access to all these items but that is severely limited in comparison to those who open their wallets to Ubisoft. Apparently the Ultimate Edition of the game doesn’t even have most of the items. It is very smart that the Gold Edition and up come with a year season pass to keep new content dropping for over a year keeping players coming back for more content but one is left to wonder how much will also be added to the store over that period.

The game also has PvP which is 4v4 on small maps which feels like a little bit of a disappointment since you get used to having so much room to move around and so many enemies everywhere then you have a smaller map with only 4 enemies. I have to truly applaud Ubisoft for scaling the players’ weapons and gear to a common point in PvP so that pay-to-win players don’t come in and pulverize those who are working for their items like some games I have played over recent years, though one might argue that some players want to upgrade for PvP instead of just PvE. Thankfully this is pretty evenly grounded.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is a terrific edition to the Ghost Recon series and Tom Clancy’s games in general. It has a few drawbacks and is still a little glitchy but none of the cons outweigh whether or not to play it, it is a great open world mixed with solid FPS mechanics and RPG style talents and upgrading while still allowing for customization and changing emphasis. Personally I fell for the single player aspects but once more of my friends get one and play I’m sure we will squad up and give Lil’ Wayne a run for his money.

Editor’s Note: Readers should also know that, as of now, there are no AI teammates in Breakpoint. So you’ll have to make do solo, with your limited drone, or with multiplayer modes until that time. Ubisoft has claimed they are working on this addition, so let’s cross our fingers.

 

Blair Witch Review (Steam)

Blair Witch takes you into the forest a few years after the disappearance of the kids from the original movie. You play former police officer Ellis and, with him, is his former police dog Bullet. Together, you two will venture into the woods to try and find a missing boy. Ellis is a very troubled man, he has a dark past which unfolds slowly as he and Bullet find and then lose the boy’s scent over and over as well as coming in contact with different horrifying elements of evil the deeper they go.

In the Blair Witch movie, there is a question of how much is the madness of the filmmakers and how much is the evil of the titular Blair Witch (the sequels undermine this duality). This comes into play in the game as well but in a different way which is nice doesn’t just retread the same ground as the movies. You do find yourself wondering if Ellis is going mad but in some cases Bullet is upset and scared which seems to accompany the most supernatural dangers the game is presenting. I used this as a gauge as to what might be real and what might not be. This was a personal choice, how you see this game is definitely open to interpretation which is a sign of a good game.

The game maps feel like an open forest enough to make you truly feel lost going over what seems like the same locations over and over – however, the world is actually on rails! Great job to Bloober Team for making this feel open but also directing you to goals almost subconsciously. You’ll have to find certain things to advance yourself to the next area where you have to find mission objects or perform some action such as looking at tapes and a tape recorder you found. You literally work with found footage of the missing boy and his abductor. The game is loaded with lots and lots of puzzles but they don’t feel contrived or there just to pad the game time. They advance the story as well as giving you a window into the individuals you are tracking. The forest is beautifully designed with terrific dynamic sound helping to pull you into the world and lose track of time. It looks real enough to make me think twice about taking any camping trips anytime soon…

There is a definite feeling of good and evil at play in the game with forces caught in the middle. There is the Blair Witch and her supernatural ways and then there is Bullet, one of the best dogs ever portrayed in a video game. As long as you treat Bullet right he is by your side as an emotional support, a grounding influence in a hostile environment. You can pet him (so adorably animated), give him treats and keep him close to try to help hold onto some possible sanity. Mentally Ellis is quite the mess, I don’t think he deserves Bullet but I think we players do, for all the horrors we witness, petting a big, sweet German Shepard behind the ears is a nice break.

I love Bullet so much (perfect name for a police dog) that I’m going to ask my family if we can give our next dog that name. I actually have played the game a couple more times to just spend time with Bullet and to see what happens if Ellis decides to treat Bullet bad which honestly made me almost want to cry. It does feel like a different game when you make different choices, every one of them has an impact and might effect what happens when it comes time to roll credits, the characters’ fates are in your hands. If you care about Bullet then care about Bullet in the game.

Just as Bullet is a physical and mental embodiment of good, The Blair Witch is the embodiment of evil. In the movie you mostly just saw lots of twig art and stones as signs of the Blair Witch, how much of it was created by Heather, Mike, and Josh’s encroaching madness and how much is the Blair Witch’s supernatural doing is left to interpretation. In the game there are physical evils that has Bullet barking warnings to you which I chose to think of as actually being there but if you REALLY want to go down the rabbit hole you can consider if Ellis is imagining Bullet barking.

One of the reasons I have been able to play the game a few times and still hit my review deadline is the length of the game, if you take it easy going through then it might take as many as 6 hours, if you are good at puzzles and spend less time taking in the environment and just try to bust through as fast as you can you might hit more around the 4-5 hour mark. When you consider the game is $29.99 on Steam it’s kind of pricey for a one time play-through game, the game is so well done I still think it is worth it but with a definite replayability with different endings if feels like an even better price. For $38.99 you can get the game with all three movies included which if you like the movies can be a great deal at an extra $3 each.

Being a horror themed game age and maturity might want to be considered, there is a bit of gore, really well done jump scares and nightmarish subjects that might be a bit much for younger players. In some ways the game reminds me of the movie Dr. Strange and the game Alan Wake, then in other ways it reminds me of Jacob’s Ladder. It’s loaded with adult themes some of which hopefully with any luck kid gamers don’t even know about, Ellis for example has a badly damaged psyche from a lifetime of experiences. Add this to an environment that is creepy and jump scare filled enough to make adults have bad dreams then you may want to think about the youngsters. Also some choices might result in bleak and depressing endings the like that hopefully most kinds and some adults haven’t themselves ever experienced.

Blair Witch The Game is one of the best horror games I have played in a long time, it’s atmosphere pulls you in then makes you jump back again. It is beautifully immersive and terrific at storytelling while giving some challenging puzzle play. It reminds me a lot of the first movie but I think it is better, it tackles heavy subject manner in a mature yet entertaining way with great gaming elements. You can even give dog biscuits to Bullet, when you play and you should play it, rub him once behind the ears for me.

Philips Momentum Wired Mechanical Gaming Keyboard Review

In 1891 when Gerald Philips and his Father, Fredrick, established Philips and Co. in the Netherlands to “manufacture incandescent lamps and other electrical products” they dreamed of lighting up the world. That was a long time ago and many companies and come and gone since then, Philips was smart enough to diversify while always keeping the idea of “electrical products” in mind so that today they do everything from electric toothbrushes to MRIs, electronic sleep masks to blenders and airfryers. It seemed only time until they made ways into electronic gaming which brings us to the Philips Momentum Wired Mechanical Gaming Keyboard.

It’s not Philips first keyboard by a long shot but while they have been making reliable gaming products this one appeals to entry level gamers who want the precision of mechanical keys but can’t afford the higher prices that most of the well known gaming companies price point. Also as a player you really want to give a mechanical keyboard a play before any heavy investing into it. I know a lot of people who liked the idea of mechanical keyboards but when they find themselves in a college dorm room working on a paper late into the night their roommates want to kill them for hearing “clickity clackity” when they want to get some sleep. In our household I’m the only one who uses a mechanical  keyboard at home which is nice since when they hear my keyboard tapping away they SOMETIMES leave me alone to write or at least wait for a break in my typing. If you are a serious gamer I really recommend getting a mechanical keyboard with up to 50 million keystrokes and a satisfying strike feeling that lets you know that key has been hit both by feel and sound. I recommend having a backup keyboard in case you do need to be quiet at times and if you get a USB one like the Momentum switching is as easy as changing which is plugged in or having one off to the side that you can go back and forth between.

The Momentum also has Ambiglow, their name for the keyboard’s lighting system which has some great strong points with only a couple drawbacks. The upper surface of the keyboard is one die cut piece of metal which is often seen on higher end keyboards with raised keys so that instead of just lighting up through the key it also lights up the spaces between and around them.This helps the gamer see the location of the keys but also provide ambient light to play by. On the right light settings it can also show you where you typed in case you weren’t sure if you had hit an extra key. Besides having raised keys to help light escape the keyboard also has large letters on the keys with the numerical keys on the top row splitting the space evenly with the shift characters such as “!@#$” so that if you are typing by the keyboard as a light source you can easily see the shift characters which often get lost by being too small to see. All the letters are nicely sized in a unique font that has a gaming look to them.

Every subsection of keys have their own coloring so that at a glance you can look in the right spot to type, F keys are all blue, WASD is pink, PRTSC and PGUp and Dn section is dark green, number pad is yellow with red + and – section, all other keys are a mint green. It makes for a colorful sight but also helps locate the keys quick. Another feature of the lighting that helps you in hitting the right key are the M keys that will pre-light keys that are used in most FPS, MMORPG, and RPG setups so that you just hit one key and you are all ready to go from your favorite shooter to some WoW then maybe finish your day in some civilization game. If they don’t fit your game you can change the lighting setup and save it down to the M key of your choice. These macro programming keys can have up to 104 strokes in it giving really nice customization and can really effect your gameplay.

Those are the M setups but most of the built-in lighting effects are designed to help you with them too or you can set it so that it just makes bad ass patterns. There is a nice size wheel built into the upper right corner of the keyboard which can be turned for computer volume or pushing down on the wheel button allows you to sort through all the lighting options. Some are directly connected to which keys you hit, for example one has a dark keyboard that only lights up when you hit a key then it might just glow then fade or hitting one will cause a lighting reaction across the keyboard. These can look so cool that it winds up looking like the gamer is doing more than just hitting a few keys, every light except the wheel can be tied into the effects. If you find them changing too distracting you can just shut the effects off, writing with lots of effects can be rough. You can even turn off the lights completely.

The lighting system is both very nice and robust but also a bit limited. There are lots of pre-saved lighting effects and up to 19 can be stored. One of the only drawback is that the keys aren’t changeable RGB lit which enables you to change key colors to whatever you want. The Ambiglow system relies on lighting to help separate keys but this also prevents you from making the keys to a color you want. Changeable RGB lighted mechanical keys can be more costly which may be why it is absent from the keyboard to keep the pricing down but it has become fairly expected in lighted mechanical gaming peripherals. This really limits what you can build lighting wise. I can see this effecting the fun of building your own lighting setup since it limits what color can go where, if this isn’t an important feature to you then this is easy to overlook and won’t effect plug and play ready to rumble time.

The weight of the Momentum is kind of a mixed bag, it could be lighter that would make it more travel worthy or it could be heavier to keep it from sliding around your desk. The underside of the keyboard and the removable wrist rest are a lightweight plastic with the wrist rest being really light and magnetic so that if you have another wrist rest you prefer it is easy to take off. The wrist rest is the only part of the keyboard that has a kinda cheap feel to it so it’s nice that another magnetic one can be used in it’s place or if you travel you can take it with you without weight concerns. The metal surface of the keyboard makes it look nice but also adds weight so should be a consideration when using it for travel plus every mechanical keyboard should be thought twice about when traveling in case you share a room.

The Philips Momentum mechanical gaming keyboard is a great addition to any gamer’s setup and at $39.99 it won’t break your bank. It has most of the features that pricier mechanical keyboards on the market do and a couple most don’t such as the incredibly easy to use key memory building and 19 programmable lighting functions that can be accessed at the touch of a button. With over a month of vacation coming up this keyboard will be traveling with me which should be about the best endorsement we can give.

 

Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review

Set in the 1980’s, Wolfenstein: Youngblood takes place after “B.J.” Blazkowicz, the franchise’s hero since Wolfenstein 3D, goes MIA. His twin daughters, Jessica and Sophia, go into Nazi-occupied France trying to find him. Now, I know what you are thinking: “how the hell did they jack up the Gunslinger movie?”… oh wait I’m the only one still upset about that? Most of you are probably just wondering how well the sisters qualify as bad-ass Nazi hunters? You heard the part where they are B.J.’s kid right? Well that must mean they trained hard to live up to the Blazkowicz name. Right? The answer to all of that is a big fat “nope”. They come across as one step above Beavis And Butthead if they had grown up in The Valley, they are given state-of-the art fighting suits that can be upgraded as you go but the first time you shoot a Nazi both girls cheer and the shooter vomits on the toes of her exosuit while other one starts pulling brains out of her mouth. This is probably how most people would handle it but from your heroines you might have expected more. “Tubular” gets tossed around as well as other 80’s generic slang while one tries to shoot while looking away. For a power boost you throw up the evil eye and tell your sister she rocks and that boosts your health and shield.  Honestly I like all the above but I lived through the 80’s near The Valley and I have a kinda Butthead laugh so it mostly works for me and I don’t mind gore. If you think about it these are all things that we got from the first Duke Nuke’em so if you liked it there you’ll love it here.

Did someone say gore? Why yes I did! This game lets you play with everything from a silenced pistol to a freakin’ laser as you fight your way through it so very many enemies. It lets you sneak up and start stabbing an enemy in multiple places or a laser beam that makes them burst into flames screaming. Something that got it’s roots in the very first Wolfenstein still carries over when it comes to looting bodies they just are a lot messier now showing how you took them out. getting creative with kills can be a big part of the fun in this game and nothing rewards creativity in a shooter like showing an interesting death. It has nice graphics and decent physics which both go a long ways when it comes to gory fun. Only a flesh wound? I think I saw that night on the floor somewhere.

Most of the story takes place in cutscenes, there are some decent length ones to watch which are a nice reward for completing a level. It’s nice to sit back for a moment and just watch the story unfold though if you don’t care about story you can always skip them. The game is accessible to many types of gamers. You can ignore the story and play through it for speed, play through doing absolutely everything, play alone, play with others,  or even just replaying through levels to get missing secret items. It’s up to you just how little or how much you want to take from the game and choices just make the game more robust.

The items you search for in the game are really fun and not just some pointless token you hunt for, they are informative, useful in some circumstances they are fun. I’m tempted to go into it more but that spoils part of the fun, let’s just say it has an 80’s flair to it. The power-ups you purchase throughout the game are really useful too so make sure to keep an eye out for them!

The game automatically saves its progress and that is one of the biggest points of annoyance with this game. I always like saving regularly and saving when I quit and neither are available, you are able to select the save slot so you can have multiple games going in different saves but otherwise you have to rely on where the game last saved you which might be a while back but also it cuts off any backtracking beyond the save location. Total. Bummer. Dude…

Sometimes it’s a difficult mix trying to have hard enemies and a boss that is harder but not too great of a leap ahead in difficulty. Unfortunately, Wolfenstein: Youngblood doesn’t do this well, having a huge disparity in difficulty between enemies. It can be very frustrating and bring you to throw your mouse in anger if you don’t mind your feelings. Single player mode isn’t very obvious either, it’s kind of buried in the various menu options. If you dig around in your game settings and choose “solo, offline” you will be set.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a fun and addictive game to play that I feel earns a spot among the Wolfenstein franchise. It delivers a new narrative and seems to pull it off well, explaining the who’s and how’s while still feeling like a Wolfenstein game. There is some crude humor and plenty of 80’s Valley talk, personally I wouldn’t want it any other way. I look forward to expansions and new maps as well as more story being told. Youngblood has brought some fresh blood into the franchise and I want more.

Star Trek Las Vegas 2019 Post-Show Rundown

When it comes to conventions most follow a very tight track of what is going to happen to make a minimum amount of appearances play out through a whole weekend. you almost always know who will be there ahead of time as well.  Then you find yourself at a Creation Entertainment event and your realize at isn’t the only way you can do a con, for some conventions the source content is so robust that you literally can’t have every possible guest attend because of the mammoth amount of material to folks to work with. This is nowhere more self evident than Star Trek Las Vegas.

Some people might think that because of how much source material there is that Creation might just pick a little from many parts but they don’t, they start the con with Klingons and and the cast from the show Enterprise and it never slows down with casts from Discovery, Deep Space Nine, TNG and a panel of the different wines and spirits with Trekkie names such as Chateau Picard from the Bordeaux region of France and that was just the Wednesday opening celebration, the con continued on through Sunday.

The convention was basically set up with different meetings in different rooms with a main marketplace type room where you can buy art or collectibles with a SciFi or Horror flair, the Rodenberry podcast people were right in the middle live broadcasting and the whole room is ringed and filled with lots of tables where you can find your favorite celebrity from the obscure ones to ones that are considered national treasures.

There are a few really neat exhibit halls which have a VR tour of the bridge in one, a museum for Picard in another and the granddaddy of amazing exhibits has to be the recreated TOS Enterprise bridge (for the right money you can get your pic taken on it with members of the original cast like Shatner and George Takei, though never those two at the same time).

The meeting rooms were mostly divided by the big hall which is gigantic and has the most celebrities, the medium room where you get the latest information on games  and more intimate meeting with plenty of people but not necessarily the draw of the first room’s audience. Then the last one is a small meeting room on the side of Quark’s Bar which is mostly academic discussions some of which can run really deep into scientific theories on what in the Star Trek Universe has a stronger basis in real life facts even going as far as saying many of them are on the near horizon for man instead of many more lifetimes to go.

I made sure to check out my favorite niche which is, of course, video games. From the Dave and Buster’s VR game to a couple mobile games I play I wanted to talk to the developers a bit to the group putting out an interactive battle gaming machine which will hopefully hit a casino floor near you soon! They are even holding a contest to get people’s likeness added to the game’s cast (I would make my mom proud if I won!). Definitely have to mention Star Trek Fleet Command when on the subject, it’s a really full mobile game with special ships, famous crew great graphics, though it is a bit glitchy, I’ll keep you updated on that.

The game I really wanted to see more of and luckily got to was Star Trek Online, a MMORPG that takes players on both space and away missions doing. They follow a future timeline that allows it to interact with all the characters from all the different Star Trek properties. The big news right now is having Anthony Rapp reprise his Star Trek Discovery role just as Mary Wiseman, Jason Isaacs, and Rekha Sharma have already done. This helps make the game feel as close to playing through an episode as possible. You build your character from scratch and collect ships like people in other MMORPGs collect mounts, which when you consider customization of each one (different bridges, hull designs and gear builds) is a pretty staggeringly high number. You also collect shipmates and pets and though you technically can’t play special duty officers you can collect them and use them in different parts of your voyages. The next season is called Star Trek Online: The Awakening which stars Anthony Rapp and the Mycelial Network glowing… growing? We will all have to wait and see.

This year one of the fun standouts in the marketplace was the Dave and Buster’s VR game that starts with you on a new science ship taking readings of an imploding star when it implodes early, right as The Klingons show up and tell you they plan to make you past tense. Oops! it’s up to you to protect your ship and the disabled Kelvin timeline Enterprise while she tries to recover her shields. The game is a hydraulic arm motion VR ride with multiple endings and multiple subjects such as Jurassic Park. I went through it multiple times and the time I went alone Spock wasn’t so happy with my performance and called me out on it throughout the game and ending so it’s not just a different ending you have you might take shade from a cast member or two. The ride is located in multiple Dave And Busters’s and though it was free to play on the floor it costs $6 a round at D&B’s.

A couple of my favorite interactions this weekend was getting a couple of tribbles courtesy of Star Trek Online and Tribbletoys.com. I always said I would pick up a couple some day (you can’t only get one tribble). I got to meet one of my favorite actors who is in everything it seems while not getting top billing, the amazing Clint Howard who started working as a baby and is still doing work which currently adds up to 249 roles  and that’s if you don’t count 46 times appearing as himself! He’s rich with stories and amazing good about sharing his time with his line, it’s not a quick sign and move you along dance, people semicircled in front of his booth so they could all hear him chat while waiting for their signing. He didn’t strike a person as just some quick money, you wanted to go to dinner with him!

Just as nice and talkative had to be Chase Masterson who was absolutely sweet to chat with while giving autographs for donations to her personal cause Pop Culture Hero Coalition, an anti-bullying organization, a subject so dear to her that she wrote the book “Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs To Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear”. She is truly an amazing person.

I could go on for days about how much fun this convention is, it was action packed with all the meeting rooms and marketplace constantly full of things going on and celebrities all around. I walked past Steven Weber a few times (he’s in our household’s favorite version of The Shining as well as Wings as so very very much more). Sweet Nichelle Nichols was a trooper manning her table for huge crowds and I missed my chance to say high again to Doug Jones because everybody else in the con wanted a bit of his time too it seemed.  Besides autographs there were also photography available professionally through Creation Ent. or getting a selfie or add-on to an autograph at the table. Generally the table are cheaper than the pictures but you pay for quality or location: some of the cast were available for pictures on the TOS bridge.

If you really want to do the convention right and get the absolute most out of it you would want to go with Gold VIP level ($1099) so you have your own reserved seat in the front row of the convention as well as priority picture taking and such. The bottom would be a one day pass sometime during the five days with the price being different each day. The best minimum would be an one day pass ($60-75) which just gets you in no additional goodies. The second highest is The Captain’s Table ($659) which gets about half the goodies. The cost seems somewhat prohibitive but the convention has lots of people from opening on Wednesday to last panel on Sunday, the price is high enough to keep it from getting zooed but low enough for the place to keep busy.

Creation Entertainment’s Star Trek Las Vegas Convention is probably the best Sci-Fi convention in the world which is a bold statement but a person needs only to look at the program or make it once to know just how special of an event that it is. Hopefully I can hit one of Creation’s other conventions that head through town to give it a comparison. Until them I will just remain gobsmacked by the amazing voyage.

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Conan Unconquered Review

Conan Unconquered is a real time strategy survival game that its creators Funcom and Petroglyph compare to games like They are Billions. On the subject of Conan Unconquered’s creators, there are few you would trust more to work on a Conan-inspired RTS than the crew that brought us Command And Conquer and Star Wars: Empire At War. The question still remains though: does it live up to the legacy of the studios behind it?

Conan Unconquered is a real time strategy/city builder that can be played different ways like you would in StarCraft or StarCraft 2 where you can make a bunch of cheap fighters to zerg across the map. Or, you might try building up a strong defense to repel invaders. Or, perhaps you would go the research route for better technology and unit abilities? The choice is yours.

The real way it stands out more than just a “Command and Conquer” on steroids is in the brutality of the attacking enemy waves. You can look up to a UI element and see what is coming and they let you know what kind of critters and troops targeting you next. Did I say critters? Yes I did and, by Crom, they are perfect for Conan Unconquered. They are great in choice of type but also the great visuals that bring them to life. Conan Unconquered displays its carnage in eye-catching form.

Of course, the best graphics won’t do anyone any good if the gameplay suffers. Thankfully, I found the game’s AI opponents to be solid and challenging and the cities that open up as your progress have challenging maps laden with the fog of war. When you start, you have only one hero to choose from (unless you get the Deluxe Edition) but as you progress up through the towns you unlock things like more heroes who have their own play styles. My favorite unlock of the game is the comic book game mode. It’s laid out like a virtual comic book so that with each city you open you also open another chapter of the comic. I’ll admit I got frustrated with one city partly because I wanted to get past it to the comic. It’s well written and I hope the DLC slated for it has more chapters of the comic too.

Though the game is a real time strategy it has a built-in pause feature that allows you to hit the space bar once and set up multiple commands to take effect as soon as the time starts again. This is extremely helpful and makes an easy option between the hardcore player and the more casual, if you want more of a true real time challenge just don’t hit the space bar and it will be true real time. If you want an easier to manage game then use the space bar as well as make sure you choose the easy to hard game setting of your choice.

Conan Unconquered has online co-op play as well so you can get together with a friend and play in a match where you share a town and resources and divide the tasks by your choice. The game is still getting it’s name out there and is still in pretty heavy updates so there aren’t many games hosted by someone else so that you can join in but if you start a match there’s a good chance someone will join in though really your best bet is talking a buddy into playing too.

While playing Conan you can complete feats such as killing a certain number of spear men and most of the them carry over between matches. So let’s say you almost kill the number of spear men you need for the achievement/feat in your first match but you lose. You still get credit for your score and for the number of kills you got. So the next time you play it continues the count from the previous match as well as adding to your overall player score which leads to more unlocks such as Veteran status or if you are playing it through Steam you get Conan Unconquered trading cards. This really helps take away the sting of not surviving a city.

Not surviving the city, unless you are a ranked professional player you will probably find yourself doing this plenty, especially when you are first getting going. Much like They Are Billions, Conan Unconquered is not very forgiving of tactical mistakes. Enemies come in massive swarming waves that pour over your defenses looking for something to exploit and the AI is good at it. There were a few times where I got caught up in building and researching only to have missed that one of the wall sections hadn’t gotten fully repaired and the enemy has breached it or some similar style mistake. You are always tight on funds, the levels never give you the chance to do whatever you really want on them because it’s all about surviving waves not creating well fortified highly developed and researched massive army comprised of the highest ranked units possible. You just do the surviving and a little bit of offense during map clearing, how much of which is also up to you. The game by design also has time limits in it, the waves come at a predetermined time from a predetermined direction(s), when the last wave is stopped the level is over.

If your Hero dies he respawns after a certain amount of time so at least it doesn’t end the level. However the respawn time can be really brutal if your defense hinges on him being around. If I had attacks coming from three directions I might have my defenses built heavily on two sides with a support defense built on the third side with my Hero intercepting the attackers. As you play through a level your Hero levels up as well and when they get to a certain point it unlocks their Hero Talent for the match, it’s usually an AOE to help you take out a section of a wave. This timer on the special attack ends when your hero respawns so if you realize you hero is gonna be a goner then use the attack quickly, as soon as they are back you have it again. Your Hero only levels during the match so don’t be surprised when it starts at level one on the next map.

My biggest concern in the game was the save system and it kept me concerned and paranoid the whole time I played. When I first started playing it seemed forever between saves so the only way to save your game was to “quit and save”. Right before you go into a rough wave the game now autosaves so if you are paying attention you will notice the autosave when it happens which is kinda a nice reminder that the enemy is at the gates, or walls or towers, whatever your play style. The game would be even better with a save function that can be used or not used by player’s choice or for completing challenges. I wouldn’t have minded speed control in the game either but that really effects the “real time” in a Real Time Strategy game so when it comes to that it really feels like developer’s choice. I think it would be interesting to make it so that you can do all the saves you want… up to a certain wave. So when wave 12 of 15 hits make it so that there are only autosaves by the game (or even not that) from that point on.

Conan Unconquered is a great game, one of the best RTS games I’ve played in recent memory. It’s not for everyone, you need to be a bit hardcore (and/or very patient) and fine with restarting levels but it can be quickly addictive. The icing on the cake has to be the well done virtual comic that accompanies it. Plus I can talk barbaric while walking around the house without looking too loony. Maybe I’ll even shed a tear because “He is Conan, The Cimmerian, he won’t cry. So, I cry for him.”

 

SNK 40th Anniversary Collection Review

SNK has released the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection – a 26 game collection of some of their most fun titles. If, like me, you didn’t know what SNK stood for, you could be forgiven since it is “Shin Nihon Kikaku Corporation” and doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue like the three letters. They are best known for the creation of the Neo Geo game series as well as the arcade cabinets that held multiple games for you to choose from on one machine. You might play Chopper I, the next Iron Tank then maybe some Beast Busters, all while not having to leave your spot in the arcade. They also came out with console and hand held versions of the games and unlike many games at the time the arcade version was a bit different both in graphics and gameplay from console ones where they lowered the graphic quality and adjusted play to give you the best experience you could get out of a cartridge. This resulted in people either having a version they liked better and having pretty strong opinions about it or players rejoicing in not having to feed quarters into a console so it was either one purchase cost or a rental price. One of my fondest high school memories is pulling a weekend all night with my good friend playing Guerrilla War while consuming copious quantities of soda and junk food.

Now that I’m done on Memory Lane for the moment let’s get back to the games, the XBox One version of the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection has 26 games on it, some of which are both the Arcade and Console versions so you can compare what they were like back then. The list of games are:

Alpha Mission (Arcade and Console versions)
Athena (Arcade and Console versions)
Baseball Stars (Console version)
Beast Busters (Arcade version)
Bermuda Triangle (Arcade version)
Chopper I (Arcade version)
Crystalis (Console version)
Fantasy (Arcade version)
Guerrilla War (Arcade and Console versions)
Ikari Warriors (Arcade and Console versions)
Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road (Arcade and Console versions)
Ikari III: The Rescue (Arcade and Console versions)
Iron Tank (Arcade and Console versions)
Munch Mobile (Arcade version)
Ozma Wars (Arcade version)
Paddle Mania (Arcade version)
P.O.W. (Arcade and Console versions)
Prehistoric Isle (Arcade version)
Psycho Soldier (Arcade version)
Sasuke vs. Commander (Arcade version)
Time Soldiers (Arcade version)
TNK III (Arcade and Console versions)
S.A.R.: Search and Rescue (Arcade version)
Street Smart (Arcade version)
Vanguard (Arcade Version)
World Wars (Arcade Version)

That is such an amazingly long list of games! My Editor-In-Chief was probably wondering if I would ever get the game review written for this because like me he might have gone in cold not having read the list beforehand of all the titles there is in one collection. If I were to just write one or two sentences about each game and each platform it is one this would become a convoluted list quickly so I’ll just mention a few gameplay styles that run through them.

If you like side scrolling vehicle fighting games in the vein of Defender then games like Chopper I, Prehistoric Isle or Vanguard might be just what you need. If you like FPS then there is a great monster shooting one called Beast Busters which reminded me immediately of how much dough I sank into it in the arcade with how many baddies it had in it. If you like a top down view down scrolling fighter style then games like Ikari Warriors I, II and III (there main character looks just like Rambo) as well as Guerrilla War and Iron Tank are great for that. If you like the top down down scrolling fighting games where you can’t stop the scrolling you just have to keep flying then games like Alpha Mission might be your cup of tea. If your thing is side-scrolling beat ’em ups like in the days of Double Dragon then you have some terrific choices such as P.O.W., and if your thing is Street Fighter style then Street Smart will probably bring back memories. There is even a RPG game called Crystalis which got addictive quick.

The SNK 40th Anniversary set makes the playing these games better than the original system in a few ways. First, and one of the most important, is that the graphics that have been upgraded to 1080p resolution. They’ve also done a great job cleaning up the sound. In addition you can save your games so that if you are playing a game and you get a couple hours in but you didn’t beat it yet you can save and come back to it at your convenience which beats the heck out of leaving your TV and system on so that when you can get back to it it will be waiting for you. They remapped the controller setup too so that you don’t have to worry which controller buttons to hit depending on which game you are playing. For example on the first person shooter Beast Busters the right trigger shoots bullets and the left one throws grenades while the left stick helps you move your sights around the screen, it’s intuitive to console players. Add to it having both Arcade and Console versions for a lot of the games and you have a cleaned up representation of different games from different systems over 40 years.

If you aren’t in the mood to play a game or you just want it going in the background while you do other stuff you can choose to watch the games and that will demonstrate a perfect game playthrough so you can hone your skills or just get a feel for the game without playing it. This is great if you aren’t really sure what to do against a boss or maybe the best power-ups and where to find them. I’m not sure I have seen this option on a game or it is so rare that I don’t recall it.

There are two additional sections to the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection that are definitely worth mentioning they are the Museum and the Options menus. I have been to a couple of arcade museums lately where you get to play the game and it has a list of facts and history on all the machines so not only do you get to play the game you are a more informed player. the SNK Museum section is one of the coolest I have ever seen on a home collection, it not only gives you a history about the games in the collection it gives you a history of ALL games the company put out in order of the year they were released. If it feels like this is a decent collection you definitely see what games will hopefully be in collections in the future. Under the Museum Bonus Feature menus you can find Advertising for some, Behind-The Scenes for a couple, and Guide Books for all of the games in the collection! The collection also includes some Video Game Land newsletters and art and sketches for some games and characters.

At first glance a retail price of $39.99 might seem a little steep but when you consider how many games you are getting and how many version (Arcade and Console) that you get it’s less than $2 a game and when you consider all the extras and how much you probably spent on the games when you played them in arcades or bought them for home use then that is not a bad price at all.

Showing all SNK’s games in the Museum section made me wish that they could have put some other games of theirs in place of the ones they provided but my thought offhand is they might be saving some of their other big games to be in a SNK 40th Anniversary Collection 2, they have some strong games to anchor another collection and if it has as many games and information as they had for this one I’m sure their fans will be happy getting some more.

The SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is a terrific set filled to the brim with great classic video games and just about anything you could want to know about it. It is highly accessible to retro players reliving great times or the newest generation of players who never got to experience their greatness. The game is designed to teach a player as well, not just how to play a perfect game or tips that can be gleamed from guide books but also a museum quality history of the company, their games, their advertising and other behind-the-scenes information that help to all come together to make you a more knowledgeable  retro player. All in 1080p which is so much nicer on today’s televisions and monitors. It even has soundtracks available from the games!

Toast Custom Console Cover Review

Starting as a Kickstarter project, Toast was able to crowdsource their first laser in 2012 and have been running full speed since then, adding more and more items that they were able to custom cut and etch with lasers. Based out of Portland, Oregon they are a family business dedicated to having fun while making cool products. They even have a wooden mascot named Justin Beaver. When my Toast arrived the first thing I did was read all the instructions prior to assembly. That is because until you get the pieces in place the kit is very fragile, thinner than those balsa wood airplanes of my youth by far. As long as you read and try to follow the instructions, the company has a “butterfinger” clause in case you break your kit or make an irreversible mistake when placing the parts. I can have really shaky hands sometimes so I was a little nervous starting the setup but even my wiggly hands managed to pull it off.

Each piece has the show outside and a backing that is completely covered with 3M adhesive, guaranteeing it won’t just fall off over time. 3M is very assuring for such a purpose but it tends to cause the butterfinger moves or close calls. As you lay down the pieces you need to do it in their precise order so the seams match up and you want to double check where you are putting the pieces to make sure they are precisely in place before you push it down solidly. Once you push it down it is only a matter of moments before the sticky side is semi-permanent in its spot, meaning you might get lucky taking the part back off using the recommended tips but odds are the wood piece won’t survive the removal and replace. Surprisingly I didn’t need to contact them about getting a new piece since I managed to place all of them perfectly shakes and all.

Though the pieces aren’t very thick and are practically as light as a feather it is surprising how detailed their laser etching is. I chose the GamingShogun logo since most of the review games I play on a console are played on that one (including three at the time) so I figured it should be the nicest looking system. The etching turned out absolutely beautiful and made me immediately wish I had one for my PS4 next to it so they could have the class of Toast. I’m even considering getting a gaming laptop cover with my Halloween and hockey IIOY? Twitter and FB account that travels with us a couple of months each year as well as getting a lot of use at home. It just adds a level of sophistication.

Care needs to be taken when putting your Toast kit together but as long as you are patient and careful the results are terrific and manages to elevate the class of whatever it is put on. If you have your system out on display or you want your cellphone to look really nice or you want your logo to be display on all sorts of products then the Toast Team are the folks for you, they even have custom wooden stickers. Personally I plan to have my Toast cover stay on my Xbox One for all it’s years that I will keep it, and I hope to Toast more items in the future.

Tropico 6 Review

Just in case you have never heard of the Tropico series (I met someone who thought it was a sunscreen once… I think they were teasing me) it started as a city simulator that took place on an island which has had so many features added that by the 6th installation the game it is no longer a casual strategy for the common player, it has become a beast of the genre. There is so much to learn that even for a seasoned player who has played the whole series find themselves playing all the tutorials that take a few hours to get through otherwise they find themselves tearing through menus trying to figure out how to get something done before the peasants revolt. I think the only things that are missing from the game are the internal works in the building like how many bathrooms on each floor and which one needs stairs and which needs elevators. I’m not complaining about those missing because I am a deep diver of real-time strategy games and think it has plenty of challenges already. Tropico 6 is like a massive combination of a city simulator and a RTS that has so many features that they cancelled their release date and pushed it back to later this month to make sure they got everything in that they wanted, like cable cars.

Previous incarnations of the game took place on one island that had limited locations for building due to landscape and island size. This sometimes got frustrating because you would build things a certain way then realize a particular structure had to go in a certain spot where another was, leaving the player the option of trying to get as close as possible or bulldoze locations and rebuild them according to the new needs. Also due to build limits and landscape locations getting to certain parts of the island would mean docks and the slow travel around the island to get to other locations. In Tropico 6, there are really fun additions to the to travel building that changes things massively. The first is a pretty obvious one and that is bridges. For proper economic rewards you really need to have docks for import and export and when building bridges you need to be aware that they can stop your ship passing quick. I made a habit of trying to make all bridges and roads across the island to be at the top or bottom of the island to make sure that there is an open path to docks and exporting, bridges cut them off cold. I made the mistake of putting my bridge right between two docks the first time so I could have the docks nicely connected to the road. Then I saw a whole boatload of supplies, actually seven boatloads, that couldn’t make it to the dock and were just floating out in the water, you definitely don’t want to give yourself sea blockade when trade between islands is so important.

One of the reasons you want a good ground transportation system is so you can have bus routes and stops, parking garages, housing down the road from locations, construction and teamster shops close to get workers where they need to be. A new favorite addition are tunnels, so there’s no need to try and curve around the sides of a mountain when now you can get to places in a straight line. If you have natural attractions such as cave paintings, waterfalls, Mayan temples or active volcanoes you can put in teleferic stations – like those sky buckets they used to have at Disneyland. These will take you up into the mountains to see nature or man made beauty without having to try and run a road up into the majesty of the islands. You can even put in low cost, scenic gazebos for people to get even more bang for their buck.

There are just so many possible ways to make your fortune or make your people a rich nation. You can do it through raising crops, importing and exporting, and tourism. Tourism plays a far greater role in this game giving you vast and sometimes amusing attractions: ever wanted a Statue of Liberty on one of your islands? Here’s your chance. I want the Ahu Akivi Moai Heads (the Easter Island Heads). And if your people live in shacks so you can have resorts and cruise ships? It depends on what kind of El Presidente you want.

Denying your people the base necessities we like such as housing a three meals a day might sound pretty heartless but you can then win their hearts with Church or entertainment. They don’t mind living in Shanty Town if you provide a 24 hour a day Arcade or a nice circus or my weakness a good cinema. If they feel like they are getting disillusioned just bring in churches, maybe even a world famous cathedral to get people caring less about their current life and more about their spiritual next one. If that doesn’t work you can try to educate your people and decide whether or not you want them to start entertainment such as newspapers and television, it’s been my experience as a dictator in many games that a well educated population helps you make nicer and more technologically advanced things such as a space race but the more your people know the more you have to worry about comparing your empire to the big boys of the world, you may find yourself wanting to set yourself up with the bomb to work in the world theatre while hoping your populace doesn’t realize all the tourists you are fleecing are giving you wheel barrels of money. Or course if a couple of people don’t realize how lucky they are to be living in your island paradise you can send them to the asylum to find out why they can’t be happy. If that doesn’t work? Well you can build nice mausoleums too.

Just a couple of quick things, I often found myself trying to grab and drag the map around like I do in other games so I had to keep reminding myself to move my cursor to the edge of the screen to move the map or use the center on function that allowed me to pick a location and center my map on it. A small thing overall so something after a little time became far less of an issue.

The harder one is when I get a message on a building and it isn’t intuitive or clear on how to fix it. A perfect example of this was when I build a Power Plant and had an Arcade built right next to it. Suddenly it showed what looked like an empty box symbol over the top of the Power Plant and the Arcade wasn’t considered powered like was necessary for the task to be considered completed. Clicking on the Power Plant showed that it’s stock was empty, giving me a WTF moment, not the first (that honor went to the ships stopped next to the bridge like rush hour traffic). I started the game going while I went to get a tasty beverage to quench my parched throat and when I came back it was completed. The only thing I can think is maybe their is an allotment of power that makes it so that if it’s out of juice for the month it’s out, still not quite sure on that.

It comes to a point in a review where you need to just tell players if they are hardcore RTS and city sims players this game is perfect for them. Once a player gets used to everything Tropico 6 does with its menus and problem symbols and how to fix them then this will be the game they will be playing for a long time to come. Tropico 6 is meant to have everything they wanted to add to previous versions while making sure it had a flavor all it’s own and it succeeded at it terrifically. Whether you go through all the tasks and missions or you go dive into sandbox play this game will be the one you compare future game to.

Yakuza Kiwami Remastered Review

When Yakuz Kiwami hit the scene in 2006 for the Playstation 2, it slipped passed some people but the true fans of sandbox games could not get a hold of it fast enough or get enough hours in the day to play. There were some limitations on graphics at the time and rumors abound in recent years that they might remaster it to bring the game forth to a whole generation that hasn’t gotten to experience it but have come to expect a certain level of graphics. Now Sega has unleashed the latest graphics on the classic sandbox game.

Before diving into the storyline it would be remiss not to say exactly what was done to Yakuza Kiwami, graphically. Back in the day the graphics had to be capped, particularly with regards to the frame rates to make sure the system could run it. With this new edition they uncapped the framerates, rebuilt it from the ground up with support for up to 4K resolution, added customizable controls both on the gamepad and the keyboarda and included ultra-widescreen support. When a character gets up in your face if they are a guy you can see all the pores in his skin, if it is a woman you can see how smooth her skin is and tiny nuances to the character’s acting come through in gestures that would have had to be over-exaggerated when it originally came out and now are now the subtly of real life. There is one point when a character talks to an elderly lady and the quality of her appearance was so impressive I watched it a while to see if it looked like it was photo captured instead of rendered. I am pretty sure it is rendered but when it is close took look like the real thing that’s impressive. The visuals aren’t the only great part since the sound was remixed and the entire cast re-recorded their lines and that allowed for them to expand the cinematic storyline.

I mentioned that there wasn’t so much of a need for overacting from the characters but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, one character in particular overacts so much that he jumps in the air and kicks his heels while walking away after being stopped from murdering someone. The character is meant to be liked in an obnoxious friend kind of way you just need to not look too closely  at his actions since he does help your character. It’s strange because you find yourself laughing at something he says or does then he reminds you he is a cold blooded killer. Some of the other character they have overact wind up looking a little hammy but I have to say they look so good doing it.

Without blowing too much of the story, you are a member of the Yakuza (by the way, Yakuza Kiwami translates to Yakuza Extreme) who is about to be made a boss, stepping into the shoes of a man you truly idolized. You also have a girl you are sweet on and she seems to feel the same towards you. I guess the story wouldn’t be that exciting if things didn’t change in the extreme. It starts off in 1995 but heads toward 2005 pretty quick. It’s a rise and fall story, or a rise and fall and rise, or the other way around? I guess you will have to play the game to find out.

The game gets a bit confusing at times, mostly because a lot of characters are introduced and then some go and new ones show up and the whole thing tries to explain the Yakuza organization as well as tell a story. The problem is the Yakuza is set up like a multinational industrial conglomerate with things like subsidiaries and other titles but also like a gang with territories and protection rackets. The company structure and gang style makes it so that the story can be really hard to follow but the developers nicely made it so you could rewatch the cinematics through the menu so that if you get too confused on what is going on you can go check them out.

When you get the game through Steam you are given the option of a keyboard or gamepad. Normally if a game comes out on the PC I expect to use my keyboard and mouse. There are some exceptions but most have dual options and if I am playing it on my PC I play keyboard. When you start this game the opening video says “Real Yakuza Use A Gamepad”. That doesn’t generally bode well for my keyboard but I said what the heck and gave it the good ole board and mouse try. Sometimes it would give me instructions for a gamepad then a little while later give it to me for the keyboard. I played with it for over an hour, frowned and shutdown my rig for the night. The next day I started a new with the gamepad and I had to push fairly far away from the computer because I wanted to do certain things I have become accustomed to on the keyboard which would then get me hints for the keyboard instead of the gamepad. It’s got to be such a bane of the developer to map out the keys for one peripheral then port it to another system and trying to make the key setup on both be as fair and even as possible. The thing is though they really are two very different experiences, they realized that was the case so told the players “Real Yakuza Use A Gamepad” so you have no illusions of the same experience.

This game has side missions, and though doing them unlock achievements if you just care about beating the game or beating up on virtual gangsters you can take a wild variety of playstyle and finishing it with or without the ending. The story is optional, grinding is optional, side missions are really optional and achievements are optional. These are all the things you look for in a true sandbox game, your play isn’t on wheels it’s what you make of it.

Yakuza Kiwami took me back to the first time I played it so fast but then made my jaw want to drop when I took in all the amazing graphics, sound, voice-acting and cinematics. If you played it back then and hope that you can relive the feeling I think updating the sound and visuals from the ground up will take you back to it without being distracted by old graphics and muddy sound. If you are passing it on to another generation or are the next generation you should give this game a play and if you are into the story it, like Yakuza Kiwami, has only gotten better.