Author - Ripper71

Review of New Civilization-Building Game HUMANKIND

I’ve always loved a good strategy game, heck I’ve even been known to have a fondness for a few so-so games. They foster critical thinking as well as situational awareness that can seem kind of scarce sometimes in these pandemic days. Many of us grew up on the board game Risk where every movement was made by your own hands and strategy was the only way to win (ok occasional dumb luck too). Then came video game consoles to take the next great leap where you weren’t able to cheat and the rules could have the sophistication. This jump to electronic games allowed the gameplay to become more detailed with menus, tutorials and programmed AI that improves every year. Then a new game style hit the world and thought intensive games such as Civilization were able to come into being, 4x, and it stands for Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate and is the basis of most strategy games these days, from Warcraft games to Age Of Empires and Civilization, and is definitely at the basis for the game Humankind.

One of the first things to point out is how similar the gameplay will sound to Civilization which is one of the best known 4x games and is considered to be a gold standard of what can be done in the 4x strategy gameplay. If you talk about facial tissues odds are you will compare them to Kleenex, sometimes company’s products just become the most known by the most people. Humankind is a turn-based 4x turn-based strategy as opposed to a real-time gameplay where often times the winner is the fastest hands or if the player is against the computer then lots of pausing to try to keep up if you have the option or just get faster and faster at strategizing and implementing the 4x. Humankind is definitely designed to be a challenge but with the turn-base it gives a player a chance to really consider all the possibilities as well as leave the computer if you need to. If you are in a real-time against a live opponent you are locked in that chair or you lose.

Humankind also has a great save system which I normally discuss lower in the review but in this case it is nice enough to mention sooner. You can save anytime you like using any name you want so if you were trying something different you can name the save “4 hunters sent west” so you know what you were trying when you go to give it another shot. It also has time stamps so you can look to see the order nice and quick and one of the best things is the game auto saves every turn so if you get all into playing, lose track of turns and realize you made a critical error five turns back you can go back to it easily. I have wanted that on multiple strategy games and even in some other game types where you get one save in two hours of play forcing you to go back an hour to the last save point and boy does that get frustrating.

The graphics in Humankind are great with nicely colored maps and the terrain is recognizable from above as to what type it is. Prairies, woodlands, river springs are all just examples of what the lands are but are so obvious from above as well as a couple little symbols of possible usage that appear when clicking on a hex. Sometimes the graphics on hexagonal maps are much more simplified to help the hexagons to stand out more but personally I like where you feel more like moving across a map and less like pieces on a game table. The music is nice and soothing, it’s actually on while I’m writing this review since it fills the background by sounding nice but not distracting.

Humankind has really deep menus and details of the society you are trying to build. You start at the Neolithic Era which is one of the first things to set the game apart from other 4x ones. You soon go into one of many choices of famous societies and try to build them up by their strengths and weaknesses but it’s fun to get used to the game with a nomadic tribe before settling into a famous civilization. There are quite a few choices of Eras to choose from such as the Egyptians, Assyrians and the Hittites just to name a few and they at least give you a solid starting point and general idea of how your empire can expand. Once you get into expansion you wind up growing your area of influence and start bumping into the spheres of enemy influence where you then need to consider what kind of leader you want to be. Working through different political options should prevent the necessity to declare war on an enemy but let’s face it at some point you are probably gonna want to save game and build a war force to see how that plays out, who can resist?

If you find yourself having a hard time playing as just your one Era the good news is once you complete one you can move onto another. There are a total of 10 so you definitely get to mix things up a bit making it so that no two games would be exactly alike which makes HUGE replayability. If you are playing Humankind on multiplayer it’s good to know you can’t have two of one Era in a single match. There is multiplayer but it’s still in the works at this point, need to get word out about that aspect more since the amount of available matches with players are a little anemic right now with most matches trying to get players or are high levels of turns from being a long standing game. After completing the Neolithic Era all the eras are available to play, you don’t have to hope to unlock them each as you go.

One of my favorite parts of Humankind are the tutorials. Generally tutorials are just something to say is in the game or not but in this case it doesn’t just cover the general mechanics it has tutorials on how to hit certain achievements as well. There is also links to a game encyclopedia, community maps and details on the available AIs making the game about as approachable as you can get.

Civilization and Age Of Empires are pretty big examples of 4x strategy and Humankind can hold its own with them. You can dive into deep menus and expansive gameplay while still hearing mellow music and being turn-based. The graphics look great and no two games will be alike with mixing up what Eras to play and different political and environmental decisions to make. The more you play the deeper you can build your games. If you like Civilization you will like Humankind for all the reasons they are the same and different.

A Preview of Survival-Horror Game Tormented Souls

I have always been a huge fan of survival horror since before it really had that name. Back in the days of Alone In The Dark with their hexagonal characters and great graphics for the time where you find yourself in a mansion full of bad things where more times than not running is the best solution. It wasn’t until Resident Evil came out that survival horror officially had a game to hang its title on and has since been the foundation by which all other games in the genre are compared to. With all this and years of survival horror to compete with does Tormented Souls have what it takes to sink it’s hooks into the players? Let’s check it out.

Tormented Souls starts with the main character Caroline Walker going to investigate a picture she received in the mail from a sprawling mansion only to wake up the next morning naked in a tub with a respirator hooked up to her and missing an eye. This may sound like an average Sunday morning to you but for Caroline it is the beginning of a dark and dangerous experience.

The graphics and sound play together seamlessly especially if you put on a headset for a deeply immersive play and make sure you play it alone in the dark so that you can avoid as many distractions as possible. Literally I waited until there was only me and two cats at home, late at night. As a result I had a few jump moments and truly appreciated what happens in the shadows as you play.

The controls are designed for a controller not a keyboard and the control smoothness of the character increases when using a controller. I tried for a really long time just to use the keyboard and mouse but it was a bit clunky and the keyboard controls aren’t listed under “controls”. The moment I started using a controller the game became more fun. You will have to adjust the directions you are traveling depending on the camera angle so you can be traveling up the screen and wind up with a camera shot from an odd angle to disorient the player but it also means changing the direction you are pushing on your joystick. It looks cool but takes a little getting used to especially if you are fighting something.

When it comes to the issues I felt in Tormented Souls there will be folks who have no problem with them. Also this is a preview of the game so suggestions made at this point might already be adjusted in which case visiting the game closer to release might have different experiences. The big problem I had was the saving process. It’s not uncommon to have players need to find a device like a cassette tape you have to attach to an in-game device and then enables you to save at that location. Often if it is difficult enough to find them then they are reusable the player just needs to go back to the previous spot. I played for a long time and only found one save point which had me running around searching for a save item when I was ready to be done playing for the night. I went back to the location and the tape was single use so all my play after that had to be 1) lost 2) left sitting on my desktop so that I have to leave it open in the background until I get back to playing 3) stay at the game for an extra long period of time just trying to find a save spot. I did the second, then the third and finally just shut it down and lost my work. I died trying to find the save points a couple times as well which brings up the next issue.

Survival horror games like to make it hard to see directions sometimes as well as creating claustrophobic locations to fight in. There is a prime example of some very nasty looking boogies coming at you in wheelchairs in a hallway where the chair takes up the whole space. You can’t jump and you need a full body space to pass the beasties on the sides which you don’t get. As a result you wind up running around in the aisles figuring out ways to slip past them. If you make a mistake you die and if you die you have the same issues as above, you lose everything back to your last (and in my case for a while only) save point. You get a weapon fairly early which is a nail gun but it is extremely ineffectual, hardly even slowing the simplest of creepies. Paying attention to your map will help you negotiate things a bit but you might still find yourself in a dead end hallway with only a little movement at the end to try to work around them. You get morphine to help you recover from such mangling and finagling but don’t expect much of that either. I think that if the game had different levels of difficulty which adjusts the number of saves and heals then it would be accessible to a far larger audience.

Tormented Souls creates a great claustrophobic environment with rich sounds and music as well as dark and graphically disturbing creatures.  If you had a hard time with Silent Hill or Resident Evil this might be a pass for you due to a fairly unforgiving save system. If you are into survival horror though, this is a great step towards mood making for the 2021 Halloween season!

Creation Entertainment Presents Star Trek: A 55 Year Mission Tour

“To boldly go where no man has gone before”. There are few phrases that are more globally-recognized than this one. “May the Force be with you” is a just as well known but Star Trek has boldly gone into so many aspects of our lives that every year in Las Vegas Creation Entertainment celebrates the anniversaries and birthdays of the shows, its creators, and celebrities who are considered synonymous with Star Trek. This year was extra special with the celebration of what would have been show creator Gene Roddenberry’s 100th birthday and the 55th anniversary of Star Trek’s first voyage into our living rooms. Between these anniversaries and birthdays and those from the cast and shows this year was a busy, star-filled event.

Gene Roddenberry’s name is linked to Star Trek for all time as well it should be. Roddenberry flew 89 missions during WWII before becoming a commercial pilot for a while. He eventually followed his father and got a job with the Los Angeles Police Department which gave him the geographical advantage to start writing freelance scripts for shows like Highway Patrol but it wasn’t long before he created his own series called The Lieutenant. Two years later and 55 years ago he got a show on the air named Star Trek which went for three seasons and was cancelled. After a series of failed shows Roddenberry’s television career was saved by syndication where Star Trek did so well that movies were green-lit as well as an animated series and eventually spinoffs. 100 years after his birth Trekkies from all over the world came to Las Vegas, despite COVID-19 still being a global epidemic, answering the call to boldly go to be among like minded people who are quick to make friends and are all there to honor this vast universe called Star Trek.

Creation Entertainment, the company behind Star Trek Las Vegas, and lots of other conventions with fierce fan bases for everything from the soap opera General Hospital to Stranger Things to Xena, always treats STLV as a near religious experience which is how many of the fans consider it. People with troubled lives turn to different things to help and fandom in shows like Supernatural often help and Creation gives fans a chance to find this outlet. There are photo and autograph opportunities with not only the lead actors but favorite characters as well and lots of panels where they get to ask questions of the stars, sometimes breaking into tears. Though the convention is technically a “Star Trek” one there are folks from all different sci-fi universes from Star Trek Discovery like Anthony Rapp to Holly from Land Of The Lost who makes it every year with a huge winning smile, this year hidden behind a Land Of The Lost face mask but you know it’s there.

Creation has been around for 50 years and it shows, with 10 years under their belt in Vegas where keeping cons going can be particularly tricky. This year they managed to get William Shatner who is celebrating his 90th birthday, George Takei (though never on the same stage with Shatner), Walter Koenig, Rainn Wilson, Shohreh Adhdashloo (great in The Expanse), and Kelsey Grammar and those were just the top billed. They had 100 celebrities lined up, and though a few celebrities and concession booths backed out understandably due to COVID, the panels were terrific and creative. From a LEGO Master Samuel Hatmaker teaching how to make a zombie red shirt to an all ladies DS9 panel. My personal favorite was What Shakespeare Leaves Behind by Jeffery Combs, Vaughn Armstrong and Casey Biggs. The themes for this year were United We Stand and We Are One, One Are We. The second one sounds a little Borg-like but if you stop to think of it both are about unity and acceptance as just being one, despite religion, politics, skin color and sexual orientation. During a Star Trek Discovery panel Blu Del Barrio was welcomed enough to open up about not just their experiences in Trek but in life in general. One thing that you take away from when it comes to Trekkies is they make you feel welcome, more so than most other fandoms. The other fandoms good about caring wind up with representation at STLV or/and a Creation convention to be around like minded people.

One of the nicest things at the convention was the main hallway where numerous quotes and photos of Gene Roddenberry were on display. They showed he was more than just the creator of a television series he was a deep and caring individual and his belief in caring for each other regardless of differences came through in not just his show writing but in quotes from his whole life. He would have been 100 and yet he is still dearly missed.

Creation Entertainment’s Star Trek Las Vegas chose to call this year’s convention “United We Stand” and it showed in the guests, the Creation people and most importantly in the fans. It is one of my favorite conventions I cover every year and I’m already looking forward to the next one. And if Star Trek and science fiction in general isn’t your thing there are so many other cons to choose from, just check Creation Entertainment’s page to find one maybe more to your liking. After seeing a panel with a few Supernatural stars, who also had been on a Star Trek series, in it I found I really want to catch Supernatural Con when it hits Las Vegas next year.

Photo Gallery

Review of Immerse Gaming | HIVE By Embody

It’s understandable that gamers want the best audio possible, but high-end headphones can also be very expensive. To give gamers with headphones of all kinds a custom-tuned virtual spatial audio experience, Embody has introduced Immerse Gaming | Hive. How does this work though?

To start off, you read a QR code with your cell phone that takes you to a page that helps you take a picture of your right ear. Seriously – a picture of your EAR. It may seem weird at first, but how a person hears things is greatly tied to the shape of a person’s ear. That’s why Embody uses the term “Acoustic Fingerprint” to describe it. The shape of the curves of your ear, jewelry, anything that can effect the surfaces of your ear that reflect sound are taken into consideration. Then a profile is built by the world’s only AI-assisted spatial audio PC gaming software so that when you play certain kinds of games the sound will seem to come from different directions around you instead of just traditional left or right. The only apparent requirement is that your headphones have to be stereo, the basis of everything is still the left and right channels.

In selecting headphones to try the software with, I used everything from my Razer Banshee to a little green pair of dollar store headphones that are completely cheap and generic. I used open cup, closed cup, in ear, open over-ear pads with USB, audio jack and jack adapted to USB. It comes in handy at moment’s like this that I am a bit of a hoarder when it comes to my electronics though I fear Mrs. Ripper would still rather I wasn’t… If you have a newer set of headphones then Immerse Gaming | HIVE might already have a profile waiting for you, all big names and top sellers are in there and if you don’t choose one the software tries to detect it if it has a brand.

Once you decide that you need to pick the profile that best fits what gaming you plan to play. But, don’t worry as there are only a few choices and you can change them if you feel a different one suits better or you change games. They basically break down to FPS, MMORPG, MOBA, RPG, Racing, and Fighting. You can hover over the buttons to know exactly what they work for but you may find yourself adjusting it on the fly which is really easy. So say you are doing a FPS and the small “sonar” overlay shows where all the enemies who are firing are located directionally and you get an objective that involves everyone stabbing each other you might want to switch to “Close Quarters” mode that is normally for fighting and racing games but will help you if there are folks who want to stick you just as bad as you want to stick them.

Did I say sonar? Yes I did! There is a little overlaid map that can be made as transparent as you like and lock/unlockable and on it you can see which direction the sounds are coming from. The main purpose of Immerse Gaming | HIVE is to improve your sound experience regardless of audio gear quality which it truly does well. I was often able to close my eyes for a moment in a shoot out or battle amongst the stars and have a good idea where the sound is coming from not just left and right but forward, forward sides, back and backsides. It lives up to that challenge quite nicely. I threw my Banshee at it and everything right down the line and it did a great job.

But… back to the sonar. It is, by far, my favorite feature. If you are on a map with guns shooting all over the place and planes dropping bombs the better you can tell where those sounds are coming from the better off you will be. I can even see using the Close Quarters detection if it’s a smaller map and I want to get a good feel for the guy running around the map with a knife like Jack the Ripper (especially if it isn’t me for a change). I could see setting my audio back to my speakers while playing if I don’t feel like wearing headphones and the software will still try to improve the sound location (if it isn’t working well you can turn it off). I might still leave the HUD on though so that I have a better idea where everyone is even without wearing the headgear. Of course if you prefer you can move the HUD or remove it entirely and just use the AI audio features if you prefer that way.

When it comes to problems or issues, there really aren’t any. The software lives up to its boasts and handled everything I threw at it. The only thing that concerns me is that the technology is a subscription-based service. Pricing clocks in at $14.99 a year or $39.99 for 5 years. Considering how many different games it can improve that price is not bad, but you probably need to think about whether you think you will use it for more than 3 years where the longer term is the better deal.

The Immerse Gaming | HIVE does an excellent job living up to its promises. The different aspects of the AI-driven software work well together and can be easily tweaked for the type of game you’re playing. The Immerse Gaming | HIVE software is available now at Embody’s official website.

Endzone – A World Apart Review (Steam)

Endzone is a city simulator set over a hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse wiped out the population on the surface of the planet leaving only those who took shelter in time. As they rise up to become the new surface dwellers the settlers have to contend with everything from drought to nuclear radiation until eventually what you have looks good enough that other surface dwellers who have not been as successful decide the best way to keep surviving is to take what you have. At this point those attackers are all AI because Endzone is a single player game.

The depth of this game become really obvious in the tutorial that takes hours to complete on its own and that is with most of the environmental issues held back while you get your groove. You start it with a single spot and a helpful narrator giving you different tasks to complete to familiarize yourself with the different menus and options of the game. The game allows for pause, fast forward, and faster forward in case the natural time of the tasks start taking too long. If you are on the verge of taking some mighty bad event, being able to pause the game and consider your options is always a handy thing. You can also save whenever which I always appreciate in a game.

The theming of the game is really one of its biggest draws, I have been playing city sims and base builders since the very first ones came out and the depth and uniqueness of this game is really impressive. It would have been easy for them to create a bunch of building setups from other building games and just change the theme but the developers put much more care into the end product. The menus all feel fairly unique, the buildings fit the deadly circumstances but also upgrade in interesting ways that usually involve assigning a settler to a certain profession permanently. As a result one of your most finite resources are your settlers. You can even find yourself adding and then removing settlers from different tasks to handle the current most important thing which hopefully will payout in a few more settlers.

The game isn’t just about building though. Those settlers that make everything happen also need to be kept happy which is a pretty hard to accomplish while trying to struggle by. You need to improve housing conditions from the beginning and as your society develops the workers need something to keep them happy like pubs and campfires to hang around but also places like forums and cemeteries to handle the harder parts of life and death in a contaminated world. Due to said contamination you also need to get a good hospital and cemetery built, your settlers will thank you for it.

The gameplay can be pretty much whatever you decide for it to be, you can dive into deep menus researching all kinds of things while struggling with drought, radiation and raiders or you can set the game to a no-pressure building setup so you can pass the time seeing just what you can build when you don’t have to worry too much about the environment as just a couple of examples from the different end of choices. The main menus consist of tutorials, survivals and scenarios. The tutorials and scenarios are pretty self-explanatory and survivals mean everything from difficulty level to particular challenges like “no trees”. This game has massive replayability where you can even go and random roll a map’s build.

The game’s graphics are really nice and look like what a bunch of survivors would hobble together using what is available to them. You can zoom down to nearly street level and see what the buildings look like with all their detail before swinging out to a wide map that allows you to check radiation, drought, happy settlers, electricity, building damage and what’s being built as a colored map layovers showing the highs and lows throughout the map. Keeping any eye on these is a great way to catch trouble before it gets alerted to by the game.

A funny thing happened while I was reviewing this game, I was in a room packed with people watching a NHL hockey game all totally pumped up and a couple asked what music I was playing and said they liked it playing in the background while we watched the game! So that gives more than a thumbs up, more like a few of them in support of the terrific original soundtrack for the game. I actually have the game playing in the background while I am posting this review so that I can continue to enjoy the music while writing.

Endzone – A World Apart is a great city building, survival strategy game that can cause more settlers to die than a few plays of The Oregon Trail but in a far more exciting and in-depth way. The game can be brutally hard to survive or require lots of building or just a mellow building fest with nice music and your choices on what you feel a post-apocalyptic world should be if given the time and inclination to design.

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II Review (iOS)

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Wars is back – this time, on the iOS platform thanks to Aspyr. First, we need to remember this isn’t a new game, just a new platform for it. Hitting the scene in July of 2003, Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Wars not only had one of the longest video game names that year but it also was one of a fairly small number of games that manages to have a sequel that is arguably as good, if not better, than the first. The game’s graphics were excellent, gameplay improved on the weaknesses of the first KOTOR and, most importantly, it has a storyline that ties nicely into the rest of Star Wars canon. Much like the Star Wars film trilogies Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Wars is the second and therefore darker game of the series. Development started right around the release of the first game. Lead designer Chris Avellone went all through its gameplay and took what he thought worked best while adding complementary features so that it felt like a cohesive continuation as much as a sequel.

The KOTOR games take place a couple thousand years before the original film trilogy during a very dark time when the Jedi have been hunted to near extinction. The second game takes place just a few years after the first game at a time when the last remnants of the Jedi flee off into space after The Jedi Civil War. Depending on which side of the Force you committed to in the first game you find yourself on a path of the Dark or Light side from the beginning though it’s a little bit before that choice kicks in. At first you are in a ship named the Ebon Hawk with 4 droids and 2 humans and it doesn’t take long before things start getting a little crazy. Without giving away much of the story this game is definitely the darker of the two which I personally find terrific. If you are a Star Wars fan we highly recommend playing the game since it ties into the universe so nicely and adds to the canon. The story is nice and long much like the gameplay so it starts a little slower on the action but once things start ramping up it gets awesome.

Choosing your path between light and dark makes for great replayability as well as letting you complete your fantasy of running around with Sith or Jedi. Some Star Wars games only have you see or work with the light saber swinging folks but in this case you find yourself swinging your own colorful blade, it just takes a bit of time. The original release of the game on PCs back in 2005 was highly touted as one of the best Star Wars games ever made. It is a direct sequel to the first to the point that your actions in the first in theory should effect your new play if you are honest about which side of the Force you served in the first game. There are only a handful of years between the two games but if you find yourself playing the sequel without playing the original first it will be no problem at all, the game helps catch you up on the storyline and presents a learning curve on the controls to help new players. If you feel you need to check out the first game before playing Sith Wars it is available on the app store individually or as part of a bundle with KOTOR 2. There is so much to do in the game as well as different

When it comes to the controls, this is one of the few problems that the iOS version of the game has. Trying to help with iOS and touch issues that can be associated with these platforms, the developers tried to combine what is normally two controls and put them into the middle of the screen. Moving your finger horizontally right and left makes it so you look around the room then vertically up and down on the screen you move forward and backwards. This would normally have been two virtual sticks at the sides of the screen when held horizontally and is pretty much the standard of movement on iOS games. Instead you get clumsy controls and the camera has the problem many games have when standing in a smaller room sometimes the camera swings for a new angle and instead shows you the backside of a wall and/or ceiling. That combo definitely can lead to a quick and cursed death. It also brings up the point if the controls work well for other games out there why fix them? It also can block the middle of your view when playing on a phone which took away from the game a bit too. You can get used to the controls after a while but they always seem a bit clunky.

I played the game on the iPhone XR which has a quality that showed so well how beautiful and detailed the graphics are on the game. It didn’t feel like you were playing on a port, but the visuals are so nice it doesn’t feel like a mobile game at all. Keeping the graphics and details of the PC version does have a small drawback in that the fonts in the game weren’t increased and so become so tiny that you almost need a magnifying glass to read them. If however you are playing it on an iPad everything should be readable and the details more discoverable.

Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic 2: The Sith Wars has a long title and a nicely long campaign to go along with it. It looks and sounds just as beautiful on iOS as its earlier PC version, probably even more detailed mobility since the screen is shrunk down without much visual changes. The controls could use an overhaul becoming two sticks instead of one which would increase the games fun hugely, but even with this issue Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Wars is a great game at home or on the go. Though it is a quick join, play, save and stow game through mechanics Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II: The Sith Wars still has the rich details, environment and canon offered to PC players. If you are a big Star Wars fan or just like swinging shiny weapons while taking in a story, this game is right for you.

Amnesia: Rebirth Review

Set in the Nigerian Deserts in 1937, Amnesia: Rebirth begins with a plane crash and a character that doesn’t know anything more than you do about her past. French national “Tasi” Trianon wakes up alone in the wreckage of a plane in the middle of dunes with some mountains in the near distance promising shade and hopefully the protection of some nearby caves. She starts out with the titular amnesia and slowly, mostly through clues discovered throughout her travels, she begins to have flashbacks of better days. Without giving away too much of the plot her slowly lifting amnesia is a salve for her current fear-filled travels.

If you have enjoyed the Amnesia universe that is slowly scratched at throughout the games then you will really enjoy Rebirth since it digs even deeper into the mythos than the previous games. Each game of the current trilogy has shown a different but somewhat overlapping look at a world that is mostly suspenseful but not above a startle scare or two, or twelve for that manner. The game enjoys lulling you into a certain level of tension laced with repetition causing you to jump even harder when it gets you. I’m what’s known in some horror communities as a happy rock. I love to see a good scare even if usually they don’t work on me, and yet right now as I pen this, I am trying to shake off the last scare I got. I’m cherishing the startle right now since the other Big C shut down so much in the ways of scaring that you gotta appreciate what you get. That doesn’t mean that this game wouldn’t be considered as good in a non-2020 year but maybe it wouldn’t have gotten the appreciation it deserves.

A great story is nothing in a game if it doesn’t deliver in other ways such as graphics, audio and narration. The graphics in the game are really nicely done, not photo-realistic but close enough to identify everything and more importantly help pull you into the story. The audio is excellent and is used to the maximum during scares where you hear a sound but also have an audible sound sting that brings a scare home, and of course you gotta wear headsets while playing. In a game like this with a driving suspense behind it both the sound effects and any narration are critical in the delivery and actress Alix Wilton Regan, of such games as Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed and Metal Of Honor: Above And Beyond just to mention a few of her really long pedigree, is very much up to the challenge. Her acting is so well done that it helps with pulling you deep into it and is not above lulling you into a tense calm perfect for a scare. More importantly, she brings home the heavy drama that part of the storyline requires.

Most of the game consists of solving puzzles to advance onto the next part. Sometimes the game likes to give you a few hints to work with, other times it takes a bit of creativity that can be completed in different ways. It makes a suggestion but if you seem to figure out a puzzle can be completed using different items or earlier than necessary the game will let you, it’s not open sandbox at all, certain points require other completions, but it gives a little leeway that feels more realistic as a result. This little freedom definitely adds to the immersion.

If there is any real concerns the puzzle controls might be one of them. When it comes to operating a puzzle event the controls can be a little unwieldly and as a result a little frustrating. It’s one of the few things that actually can pull you a bit out of the game as you are having to exaggerate while using your mouse to turn a wheel or pick something up just right. There were also a couple of collision/ground solid issues here and there that can be a little distracting themselves. A good example was at one point I set a quest item down to adjust my hold on it and it disappeared under the dunes with a rolling sound so I had to move around the dune trying to find something I can grab without seeing it. Uncommon issue but can be distracting. Lastly the loading images can be a little spoiling, they are artistically done but the subject matter jumps ahead a bit in them.

There are some themes that might be a little difficult for some people to handle due to life’s experiences, it’s hard to warn about without giving away any of the plot. It’s just a smart idea to go in expecting fear to not be the only emotion you go through during this game. There are plenty of players that the subject matter will just slide past, others will take some other deep feelings with them.

Amnesia:Rebirth is a beautifully made game of light and dark, love and fear, all of which are only a heartbeat from each other. The graphics are good, the audio terror-ific, the narration is immersive and the puzzles keep you interacting with this latest delve into the Amnesia universe. At times scary, others saddening and always full of tension Amnesia: Rebirth is a great game.

Amnesia Review Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout Review

I grew up on G.I. Joe: the toy line, the shorts, the cartoon series. It was everywhere right up through my first college years. It even birthed the catchphrase “Knowing is half the battle!” which fame wise isn’t quite as cross generational as “The More You Know”, but it’s up there. The thing was I, like many of my friends, liked the bad guys better. My younger cousin got ALL of the G.I. Joe toys where I tended toward the darker half of the toy franchise. I loved Cobra back then and actually still have a really big Cobra magnet on my fridge so you can bet I was pretty jazzed when G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout came along.

A few years back they came out with a game for the Transformers called “The Fall Of Cybertron” which enabled you to play as many of your favorite Autobots but I found the missions as the Decepticons much more fun even if it was tearing down the Transformer home world and forcing the factions into space to find a new home. The bleaker side of the story fit the universe well and added some great depth to it with good not always winning out over evil.

That is one of the big draws of G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout. It also allows you the ability to play as characters from both sides of the story in campaign mode so that if you always wanted to play a particular Cobra character you will probably get your chance. Don’t worry, if you are Joe to the core you will still get to play plenty of them through one side of the campaign’s story but the real treat of the game is playing those action figures without having to hold a piece of plastic and say “pew pew”. Full disclosure: I do hold my Xbox One controller which is plastic and I always “pew pew” during action games so maybe the difference isn’t quite that much.

Without giving away too much of the plot Cobra has gotten the upper hand against G.I. Joe with a global attack that leads to Cobra taking over governments and scattering the Joes to the wind. You get a chance to do damage on both sides of the conflict with not all of it going great for the good guys, unlike the iconic cartoons it was based off of.

The gameplay is 3rd person shooter which is nice considering it’s one of the best ways to shoot and dodge during combat but also looking over the character’s shoulder definitely helps pull you down into the game and reminds you who you are playing. Some games would leave these visuals to help pull you into the character without any extra distinguishing characteristics.; Luckily the developers understood that not only does having unique abilities to each character help keep you engaged it helps prevent combat from becoming stale. Since the player has some freedom on how they complete objectives for whichever side of the battle they are fighting for, this also encourages replay.

Speaking of fighting one of the few concerns in the game is the difficulty of combat. When the game gets hard it just gets suddenly hard, you will be cruising along then find yourself stuck on one section of one aspect of the campaign just playing over and over until you have a little extra luck clearing that section. This can be frustrating enough to make people prone to rage quitting take a little timeout hopefully without spiking the controller into the TV. For this review I am playing on the Xbox One so I have no idea if the version for the PS4 or PC may have the same issue or not. Checkpoints can also be a little unpredictable so make sure to stay on top of saves.

A game based on action figures and cartoons needs to have a solid graphic design otherwise it just won’t work. In this case most of the 3rd person gameplay looks like you are traversing through one of the TV episodes running across cartoon battlefields. It really looks like it could have come right out of a Saturday Morning Action Hour. Cutscenes are done like motion comics, basically it shows a page from a comic book and the panels and characters are shifted through them slightly creating movement. This is becoming more and more common in the comic book industry (Watchmen is one of the best) and it’s great to see the technique bleeding over into games. The whole result is a nice over-the-top fighting game with lots of cartoon explosions and vibrant cartoon colors. The sounds all complement the visuals with lots of sound effects and cartoonish music to complete the action.

Besides the single player campaign you can also play with friends in split screen co-op/vs. mode which is great since it gives you a chance to play with your lock-in mates during COVID and beyond to help deal with the cabin fever. If you are running solo in your abode then it has online multiplayer as well. You get the usual multiplayer styles of Capture The Flag, Deathmatch and King Of The Hill which may seem a little uninspired but the fun is really in playing the iconic characters head-to-head and these modes really bring that home.

I got really excited at one point when I looked at the game menu and saw “Knowing Is Half The Battle” as one of the categories. It shows art and other unlockables but the one thing I hoped to see in there, all of the “Knowing Is Half The Battle” safety promos that still inspire memes to this day, were not. Maybe as part of an expansion one day. More stories set up like additional episodes would be great and allow for even more unlockables. The original campaign is a little short, luckily replayability is high with a game like this.

G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout is a fun game for the uninitiated into Joe lore but if you are a fan who grew up on it just getting to play the characters, particularly Cobra, is fun and worthy of the title. It has all the camp you remember from G.I. Joe with classic characters to play while at the same time using great cartoonish graphics and motion comic cutscenes bringing together a great play. Hopefully we can get more episodes in the future.

NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition Review

If “rubbing is racing” then I must be the masseuse of the raceway because I managed to trade paint samples with just about all the other drivers in NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition. Did it stay fun? Did my driving improve? And the most important of all: is it worth the money? Let’s take a look.

I’m not the best out there when it comes to driving games. I tend to get used to driving a certain type of car and the certain types of challenges that each type of track and environment bring only to move on to the next track and watch myself make a mess of things all over again. Rinse, repeat. Generally I do best when a race is part of a different game where racing isn’t the main focus like GTA or Saints Row. But I’ll still step up to the challenge of a racing game because as a gamer I am up to just about anything. Except maybe PGA games, my favorite type golf is mini putt.

When NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition’s release date was announced, people wondered if it got moved up due to COVID-19 or because it’s the last edition to use the Unity engine. They may have wanted to get moving onto the next one since it will be on a new engine. Or maybe using the same engine made it so they could lay down the foundation faster and finish the game sooner. Hopefully it didn’t get shorted on new material trying to get the game out faster.

First off I have to mention one of the most popular new features of NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition: the test track mode. It allows you to take your car to any of the tracks and practice running them until you beat a goal and your best lap. It also shows a green arrow running around the track to show the optimal location to run. That was a huge help since I tend to run too high on the course tempting one of the other players to put me in the wall so knowing where I want to be going in and out of turns is essential for a non-racing gamer like me. Rubbing can turn into a visit with the walls from the other racers if you can’t hold your line. The spotter audio makes sure to let you know if you are clear above and below in case you decide to switch lanes and the AI does a terrific job with this part of the game.

If you like Tony Stewart or just covet his pit crew and cars then this is definitely the NASCAR Heat edition you have been waiting for. There are three Tony Stewart paint schemes one of which is the 2011 Office Depot Championship as well as the 2016 Homestead Finale paint job. The Tony Stewart Edition of the game also comes with more paint jobs and a Paint Booth that allows you to make some color and font changes.

Rewards for the NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition include a contract offer from Stewart-Haas in career mode and $1.4 million in-game cash to get a solo career going if you want to. This sounds like a lot especially with how ultra affordable the starting cars and teams are but it doesn’t take long to realize the big boys play with more moolah. I decided to just hot seat for other teams when I first got going. The nice thing about that is you just need to climb in the car and drive. You better drive well because right from the start the game can be a bit unforgiving of newbie play. With the test track and qualifying you should be able to get a decent feel for the cars and tracks you are working at. If you haven’t yet be patient and work on your lines.

I started my season with a bad race, figuring since it was just the first race it shouldn’t be too big of a deal. Boy was I wrong. It felt like I got shunned. The phone didn’t ring when the races came up and it took a few meets to get me back in the seats. When I did you can bet I made sure to run that track a few dozen times before even moving to the qualifying heat. From there I managed to turn the career around but I was certainly tempted with just restarting my Career Mode. Maybe even down to an easier level, dang you pride and your pridefullness! I stuck it out despite temptation.

There are multiple types of tracks and cars to enjoy throughout the game. You drive a far different car on dirt because you have to drift. Your car is then touchy as can be when on hard top tracks that let the cars tires grab and the aerodynamics of drafting come into play. For some reason drifting proved a bit of a challenge for me but as long as the track wasn’t dirt I seemed pretty good on it. Delicate touches on the game controller kept me off the wall and out of the drivers of the other cars’ lanes. That and the spotter audio which was on point and a huge help.

I mentioned a game controller above and that is because the game does not support keyboard and mouse. It lets you know right at the beginning which is nice but it may not be the way some players who pick it up through Steam may have wanted to play it. Not supporting keyboard and mouse may also have been one of the reasons they were able to release it months sooner than the previous editions. Personally I have no real problem with this, I like to have a big TV when working with a controller usually but otherwise I say release the game in it’s best form. If that is sans keyboard and mouse so be it. It also is designed to work with a wheel which really made me wish I had one of those to really feel the need for speed.

The graphics on the game are nice and crisp and just beautiful really making use of the Unity Engine. Personally I really enjoyed being able to change my camera view a few different ways so that if you didn’t want the realism of being inside the car you have a roof view, trailing camera view and more. Seeing it all take place on the Las Vegas Speedway which I have been to and see how much it really looks close to lifelike. I find the nicer the graphics the more I tend to lean into turns and such. People walked in and saw me at a 45 degree angle playing the game as i got more into it. There is the option to play the game with another player using split screen mode which I bet is great on a console and TV. Less comfy on a computer screen unless your system is connected to a TV.

The NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition comes with the Season Pass which will include 4 DLC packs so you know that you will be getting more content for your money and no won’t play through every mode and track in a week, Then you only have online and it’s ever shifting community of players to keep it fresh. You get the online aspect as well which is definitely important to mention since it is the main reason many players will get the game. I love a good career/offline aspect to a game so that if you are in the mood to just be a single player working towards those checkered flags and trophies you can do so. The game has the Quick Start options in case you want to just grab a quick race to satiate your need for speed as well as the afore mentioned career mode that gives you lots of opportunities without dealing with an online community.

This game also has a built in social element to it which can definitely effect your gameplay if you’re not careful. After a race the AI racers comment on your success during the races. If you hit them too much they start to threaten to put you into the wall, if you drive clean they will compliment you on your racing. The game is big and long enough that I haven’t had a chance to try a career where I’m a jerk on and off the track just to see how bad it gets. I’m expecting no one wanting me to race for them so I’ll have to start my own Team Hate and see how bullying on the track gets handled. The AI is really good in general, both driving and social relationships.

I can’t really speak too much on the online racing aspect of the game since I had a hard time getting a game going with other players. A bit more word of mouth, advertisements and of course reviews will no doubt call to the racing folks out there to get their game going. It just makes me that much happier to have career mode to go through and get used to all the different tracks. That way if I can get some games going I won’t find myself driving backwards because I lost control of my drift, hopefully. Career mode has challenges during the races such as finish 12 or higher or spend so many of your straight always and drafting off the car in front of you looking for the big chance to move up right before the finish.

NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition is a fun game for racing fans and general gamers alike. You don’t have to be a big Tony Stewart fan to enjoy the assets you get with his name on them. It’s a good racing game with a great diversity of game modes. You can also get online and test your metal against other player racers which honestly can be better or worse than the AI, you just never know. NASCAR Heat 5 Gold Edition is challenging but in a good way. It helps show you how to become a better racer and that might not just relate to this game, but racing in games in general. It’s worth my time enough that I plan to go back to playing it after I’m done with this review, got some challenges and a career to work on.

Control Ultimate Edition Review

I loved playing the Alan Wake games back when they came out, I lost hours and days with a flashlight in the dark and just couldn’t seem to get enough of it. Then last year a game came out that somehow I entirely missed named Control and then went on to miss the DLC as well since I wasn’t playing it. It was a little embarrassing when considering how much I like that universe so I’m glad to be able to check out Control Ultimate Edition!

The thing that makes Control Ultimate Edition the “Ultimate Edition” is that it includes the two expansions (The Foundation and AWE) along with a Photo Mode. Everything being placed into one cohesive storyline all at once really makes it feel like one larger experience. It’s true that it can be nice to have more game to look forward to coming out, but that can be frustrating as well. Sometimes you aren’t feeling as strongly about the game due to the time that has elapsed since launch. It’s happened to me before, so I am glad Control Ultimate Edition is the full bonanza.

The story of Control Ultimate Edition actually takes place in the same universe as Alan Wake and has some overlap which is pretty cool but the main story is about Jesse finding The Federal Bureau of Control. It’s been a while since the events of Alan Wake and the world is in danger from a thing called The Hiss. Sounds more like whispering souls (which sounds awesome in a headset) but The Hiss doesn’t mess around in its encroachment into the Oldest House. The Oldest House is a place of great magic that feels like a blend between Inception, The Matrix, and the stairs of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Physics become a toy and a tool when you start to learn powers and get bestowed with a special gun with special metal.

You can then use that gun to blast enemies or most of the surfaces around the building or use a power where you blast at the ground like a destructive Force push. It is then fun to run around and find out just how surprisingly destructive most things are and how their destruction follow a sensible path. Whenever I got a new power or upgrade I immediately went to work on mastering it the best I could because it always sucks to get killed in-between the game’s save points and the combat is rather brutal and unforgiving. It took a surprisingly long time to really get a feel for the gun and the AI enemies are smart, using cover and flanking you when possible. When you come back it is to the last used Fast Travel portal so if you see one out and about check into it! Otherwise you can clear whole sections of the halls just to die without reaching a new control point and you have to run back through. Thankfully, cleared areas stay clear but if you croak in a big room fight you might see yourself fighting through that room again with full enemy count. And don’t forget your powers and any upgrades/enhancements you have active, they can be the difference between an orderly room clear or a trip back you go to the Fast Travel point.

There is a lot to be said for the quality of the sights and sounds of Control Ultimate Edition. There is a disturbing undertone to the soundtrack and especially when you find yourself near The Hiss. The whispered chants are particularly creepy in a good headset with the lights in the room down low. The graphics are next-gen beautiful with lots of detail to be found all over the place. Cutaways and cutscenes are really nice looking but not quite photo-realistic which makes the details like a crooked tooth in Emily’s mouth or a slight blemish might be on Jesse’s skin. Large blocks in the walls come sticking out at various distances for no apparent reason. Picture frames have pictures in them, most of the new Director Jesse herself and computer screens are readable. Then you can use a power to blast it, beat it with rubble or maybe hit it with one of your gun selections, all of it looking beautifully rendered in destruction as well as building.

As the expansions go, The Foundation is literally about the foundation of the Oldest House and by that proximity you go down into the creepier part of Control Ultimate Edition both in location and psychologically. I’m a Halloween fiend and with this season lacking the usual faire of haunted houses due to the COVID breakout, it’s nice to get into the spooky side of games. Admittedly the core game had plenty of creepy parts (Dead Letters, I’m looking at you!) but some DLC digging into the dirt at the foundation of the Oldest House was well in order. AWE is the story about Altered World Events like those that happened to Alan Wake to the point it is thought to be a bit tongue-in-cheek to be an Alan Wake Expansion really. It feels a bit like Wake was brought in because of his name and I was a bit surprised that that part of the storyline didn’t grab me harder. What this expansion does to make up for it is give your gun some seriously fun to use ammo. The DLC name might have actually been “AWE YEAH!” because great fun can be had with destruction. This expansion plays more with light and darkness than the rest of Control which isn’t too surprising when you add Alan Wake style puzzling into the mix.

You can go through the game more than once playing in entirely different styles to try for time runs or completion or maybe just a casual player who liked the Alan Wake lore so picks it up and plays a bit now and then. That last one might be a little hard the deeper you get in case you forget how to do attacks and gun accuracy so a little refresher in the settings as to the controls and a little dying and you can get your legs again quick enough. You can choose when interacting with NPCs how many topics you want to know about toward the game plot but if you are more about gameplay than you are about storyline you can skip them and not open collectibles and you still get the game without feeling time padded by story content. There are also Steam Achievements to be had which I can admit to being a sucker for so I got excited regularly by them. Having so many options gives great replayability as well to a wider audience.

I love how well all the pieces of the Control Ultimate Edition come together so seamlessly that I’m pretty sure I mistook parts of one for the other since it all ties around the Oldest House and just adds sections of it and the stories that lay within. The video and audio are amazing and draw you in then you get to run around destroying what you want and fighting what you have to to help keep the Oldest House and it’s many sections safe. Sections that can spread out and the house can go further out like the Winchester House where for the foreseeable future the Oldest House can keep expanding showing new sights to see.