Author - Ripper71

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.

 

The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Presents Madam Satan Comic Review

I have been reading comics since I was a child back in the 1970s and, though my friends were into kid ones like Richie Rich or Casper, I always preferred the darker ones like The House Of Mystery, The Vault Of Horror, and Tales From The Crypt. Any and all of those spooky tales that thrilled me to no end when I read them before bed with a flashlight. They were pretty tame by comparison to most modern day comics, but comics were given a chance to get darker for everything from titles such as Swamp Thing to the most surprising locations such as Riverdale, the fictional home of Archie and his gang. One of the best examples of this is the new was the Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Presents Madam Satan.

Archie Comics was founded in 1939 primarily printing superhero comics with the Archie characters appearing in a comic two years later in Pep Comics trying to appeal to fans of Mickey Rooney’s Andy Hardy movies. Jump way ahead through a lot of history and in 2013 Afterlife with Archie was released with Archie and the gang dealing with a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale complete with the occult, demons and Cthulhu. Following its success we got the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina where we follow the witch through all the trials and terrors of working with witchcraft and occult academy. The darker Archie universe was popular enough to spawn a Netflix series sticking with the title The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina which provides and interesting balance of what a normal teen in school has to deal with and a practitioner of the dark arts would have to deal with.

Sadly the series has been cancelled (thanks again 2020) but luckily the comics are still here and Madam Satan is the latest one-shot for it. Without spoiling too much, the comic covers some happenings in Hell – particularly with one of the comics oldest foes in the Sabrinaverse, the titular Madam Satan. The Madam Satan character has been around since 1941 and these days finds herself bored and unfulfilled. The storyline is dark but not gore-filled, and it definitely fits in the Archie Horror label and manages to tell a complete story while being a teaser for the other Archie Horror titles. Spin-off one shots like this are great for telling the background of a character you don’t normally follow without having to dedicate an entire storyline to it which can be distracting and sometimes feel just squeezed in.

The story is well told but the art is what really brings this comic home. They did a great job creating Madam Satan in her different forms and by bringing up the concept of different looks. New readers going into the Archie Horror universe not only get a primer on the character but see that it is told in greatly artistic pages.

The only real drawback is its about the length of a normal issue of a comic and one shots tend to be longer to make it feel like a larger adventure. The comic is about the right size it could have been used for the Halloween ComicFest 2020 as a freebie but at a cover price of $3.99 it is at least reasonable. Plus possibly due to COVID-19 the ComicFest is shifting towards online ordering of collectables rather than free comics to get new and old readers into the medium. Hopefully it will draw some eyes to the last few episodes of the Netflix series, maybe enough that once the pandemic is under control some consideration to renewing the show can happen.

The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Presents Madam Satan is a good teaser in the sense it makes you want to read and watch more from the Archie Horror universe and it arrives at a great time of year to help as a salve for the lack of spooky things happening this year (thanks again 2020). I know I plan to go binge watch old episodes of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and reread Madam Satan a bit more while trying to put together some Archie Horror storylines to dive into. Apparently the one shot cast a spell on me.

The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Presents Madam Satan one-shot is due out on October 21st, just in time for Halloween.

Carrion Review (Xbox One)

In CARRION, you play as a creature being studied deep in what looks like some hidden science facility. You creep through a 2D, side-scrolling world full of soldiers and scientists, slowly taking over the lab one dark corner at a time. The Carrion creature you play is a sort of blob, full of tentacles and pseudo-pods that launch out in all directions and keep you floating above the ground. Some of your tentacles will obey commands and help open up door, ducts, humans, that kinda thing. Carrion’s creature looks like a mix between something out of a John Carpenter movie and Meatwad from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force… but with lots of extra mouths and so many teeth. We can’t forget those shiny whites as they chew up everyone in sight!

The main power you start off with is pretty impressive and easy to get used to along with cruising around, getting used to opening things and eating everyone in sight. The learning curve can get a little steep when you get more powers and abilities – especially when some require you to “change your mass”.  This means finding more people to eat to get the creature’s mass up to a size – or – leave part of its mass in a puddle to do things at a smaller scale. After completing the task you needed to shrink down for, you get your mass again and work a bigger skill. Figuring out what you need to do for different parts can be a bit challenging sometimes but it all feels worth it when you show off your powers, tearing a lab and its occupants to itty-bitty pieces.

Enemies ramp up in difficulty, which is to be expected, but a couple of enemies in and you start to hit ones that have shields and flame throwers. They can be killed, after a lot of work, but you can’t consume them to help recover from the fight. I had a decent amount of deaths from a couple of them that were walking a room together and they weren’t even close to being one of the big baddies. Coming back after dinner and getting more play in, I had to get my moves back down again after getting a little rusty from taking a break. It’s worth it though for the satisfaction of using those skills to cause lots of little people on the screen to scream.

Graphics and audio for a game like this could have gotten some grief but the developers played it smart by setting the whole game in a retro graphics style. The music can get intense, the bodies get ripped apart into bits with a little blood and some barely identifiable body parts. It helps make the game silly and fun instead of a serious and repulsive. It can be considered anti-horror in some ways since you are playing the creature who is trying to ensure its future by spreading itself into little pockets all over the station while the guards are looking for you. It reminds me a lot of Universal Monsters films in that way since you can feel somewhat sympathetic for the creatures. Even the name of the creature, Carrion, has a certain stigma to it since carrion is dead and decaying flesh. It makes you wonder if it needs to feed on dead and decaying flesh or is that what it is composed of, just a big wad of red, rotting meat. There may be moments where you change your form a bit to get past some obstacles which makes for a nice change even if the new forms made my skin crawl a bit.

The background is nice and crisp and has a retro look helps add to the creep factor in the game. I also like that there is a decent variety to the rooms – but not quite enough to keep me from getting lost a lot. When I would get lost I would think that I wasn’t lost I just wasn’t changing my mass or entering in a grate in front of me. Then, after wandering around in what just seemed like circles a while, I would find a puzzle I needed to do that I had been missing. My only other issue in the game was sometimes the tentacles didn’t grab what I wanted, I would come into a room full speed trying to flank an enemy and instead of locking onto him the tentacle just kinda went a different way leaving them the opportunity to turn and blast the heck out of me while I made a run back for the grates. I thought it was me at first but after dying a few times only to have it “just work” makes me wonder…

Carrion is a wicked fun game where you get to be the beast instead of the brunch and cruise smoothly along on tentacles eating every scientist and soldier you see. The play time isn’t that long but it has nice replayability where you choose how to clear the halls and make your new home. The 2D retro style adds a lot to the game taking what could be serious horror to a campy feel instead with little puzzles and powers that progress along with you. I know I’ll be playing it again with a big smile on my face as the red tentacles fly.

 

Disintegration Review

In the future, they have discovered a great way to help extend lives and help our climate changing world: get rid of all a human’s organs except their brains. Then, toss that wrinkly-sucker into a big metal ball in a robot’s head. This results in a society where technology is king and the good, the bad and even the ugly all want to control it. Add a vehicle called the Gravcycle and you have the makings of V1 Interactive’s new game Disintegration.

Scientists develop a process called “integration” which even in it’s name sounds like another name for what the Borg do and isn’t too far from the same idea. A militant group called the Rayonne take control and start forcing humans into the process. It’s a very mixed bag in some ways since it will help our climate but then forcing everyone to become cyborgs just isn’t cool. You play as Romer Shaol, a Gravcycle pilot, who leads a resistance group trying to “reboot humanity” by protecting the last bit of human society. It sounds like a pretty heavy story but there is good humor in the game as well.  I wish the solo story was fleshed out a bit more but coming out of an indie house of 30 members the story is long enough.

The gameplay is a combo of RTS and FPS which you don’t see a whole lot of. You pilot a Gravcycle which has a first person view through robot eyes showing the guns on the sides of the screen. It reminds me of a Star Wars pod racer too with their smooth floating vantage and flying and a similar looking design. From this view you command the rest of your team by clicking one of your mouse buttons and the Gravcycle gives you a top down view like an RTS. The other mouse button is for shooting at enemies and healing your group which is strange since you go back and forth between the kill and heal guns. It’s not just run and gun, though the game has moments you can. It give you puzzles and requires you to solve some of them by using your crew and what items you can get your hands on.

The controls on a keyboard and mouse definitely take some getting used to and if you are using a laptop I highly recommend using an external mouse for the best experience. WASD is pretty standard for moving but then the up and down of the cycle are SHIFT and CTRL which just begs for a remapping. Once you have everything setup it’s just a matter of getting in the groove with them. When you set your difficulty level at the beginning of the game it is decided by how much you have to rely on teammates and loadouts, easy being they are decent AI and can handle themselves so you can shoot and go through the story and hard being you can’t kill anything yourself practically, your only way to survive being RTS. You may want to do one run through and get used to things through multiplayer before going hard on this game. If you decide to use a controller the learning curve is shorter and the up and down control is easier but sometimes it’s nice to play a game on a system using a system’s standard controls, in this case the keyboard and mouse. Also I find it easier to make long shots on the computer using the mouse instead of controller sticks. Maybe it’s just me.

The graphics are very nice, particularly the hi-res cut-scenes and despite the heavy subject matter things take place in beautifully rendered daytime as well as night. The voice work is well done and I am thinking of finding a copy of some of the music off the soundtrack to use when walking. Sound effects and ambient noises are clean and crisp.  Combine all that and you have an all around good package. Nice graphics generally mean bad ass looking bosses and there are some nicely wicked looking baddies to be had.

The multiplayer mode looks promising, it has lots of different teams to choose from. I just wasn’t able to find anyone else to play against and each time I tried waiting for a few minutes.  Luckily it does have multiplayer sandbox where you can take on AI ships for practice. Whenever I see a game with a really low multiplayer base it is almost always the result of mismanaged marketing, though in this case I watched the the trailers and found that they were pretty much on point. It’s a shame not getting to see such an interesting idea for multiplayer, the combined FPS and RTS is already uncommon I’m not sure if I have seen them in multiplayer before.

Disintegration is a fun and addictive play, it comes out with a heavy subject but handles it in a way that is still a good time. The graphics are good, the sound and music are great and the AI is smart. Add to that a decent (albeit short) campaign and the only thing missing in the game is a multiplayer community. It has grown from humble roots, time to watch the player base grow. In the meantime let’s jump on the Gravcycle and race around some more.