Author - Ripper71

Vampire: The Masquerade Walk Among Us Audio Book Review

I’ve always been a voracious reader but nowadays it can be hard to fit the time in. I recently began checking out audio books and was thrilled to add them to my daily commute or relaxation time. I have also always loved the World of Darkness setting with IPs such as Vampire: The Masquerade. So, when a Vampire audio book series was announced, I knew I would have to take a listen. So, I began devouring Vampire: The Masquerade Collection Volume One.

When it comes to audio books, production quality can vary as much as the stories being told. I’ve heard books read by Alexa, giving off a strange, robotic accent and I’ve heard books performed with a really large cast of performers and high production values such as musical scores and sound effects. In the end though it all relies on the story and whether or not it is well-told. In this case, Vampire: The Masquerade doesn’t have anything really in the way of production except for having more than one reader, ones for female main characters and another for the male ones. There are no sound effects and no music scores just very clean recordings with very clean pronunciation even when doing accents but this too can serve a purpose. When a recording has lots of sound effects and music scores it sets the mood for the events not with the words as much as an aural performance, the music tenses when it wants you to be nervous, sounds like gunshots bring home the action in the book but doesn’t let your mind choose how loud it is, if it echoes. It’s a sort of less is more argument.

Vampire: The Masquerade Collection One features three stories to take in. In Genevieve Gornichec’s “A Sheep Among Wolves”, performed by Erika Ishii, a clinically depressed girl tries to find some comfort and companionship in her college life that she isn’t getting from her passive roommate and her roommate’s mean and prankish friend. The book shows that embracing your gifts, no matter how deep into the darkness they dwell, can bring a beautifully dangerous freedom. Ishii has a beautiful clear voice that helps bring the words home, the story’s a slow burner concentrating on the actions of the characters to help show transformation of the spirit as well as the body… The read has a nice twist and I even went back listened to it again for hints that it might be coming.

In Cassandra Khaw’s “Fine Print”, performed by Neil Kaplan, Duke discovers that despite being a man of great status and power, when it comes to Faustian contracts he’s as novice as Young Goodman Brown. A tech guru and giant sits in a room full of vampires discussing just what he thinks becoming Kindred will do for him. Somewhere along the way he missed that the life and true power of immortality is blood not technology. It has very strong language for sensitive ears but is a great story of what happens when someone learns they are not a big fish in a small pond but rather a small fish drowning in a puddle of blood. If Duke won’t listen to the concern of friends and fraternity during his “going away” moments then the cautions of vampires fall on deaf ears. Neil Kaplan’s voice really brings the tension of Duke to life while the character struggles to stay calm in the middle of a supernatural deal and a last hurrah to his humanity. Maybe.

And in Caitlin Starling’s “The Land Of Milk And Honey”, performed by Xe Sands, they discuss the ideals and ethics behind “blood farms”, locations where blood sources are kept alive to milk like a cow. The previous stories are from the point of view of humans interacting with the Kindred but this book is about the Kindred themselves and what they think of the beings they used to be. The question definitely comes up where “human rights” stand among the Kindred. The social political implications are timely considering the Black Lives Matter movement being so prevalent right now. The arguments brought up in here could easily be compared to the treatment of Black people in our modern society but it wasn’t done in a preachy, self-righteous manner but instead tells a very interesting story about possible vampire society. Definitely my favorite of the three books I re-listened to chapters just because I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Vampire: The Masquerade Collection Volume One is a nice collection of vampire tales with great story-telling and an obvious love for the source material. It doesn’t use extra productions such as sound effects and music interludes but the sincere, clean readings and well written tales come together to bring the characters to life, even the undead ones. It’s also nice and long to get through commutes, trips, bike rides, walks: you get the picture.

Razer Ornata V2 Hybrid Gaming Keyboard Review

The Razer Ornata V2 Hybrid Gaming Keyboard is meant to fill the gap in between mechanical gaming keyboards and the more traditional, membrane-based ones. It features what Razer has coined “mecha-membrane” switch keys. But what does that mean? A membrane-based keyboard is a traditional keyboard design going back decades. It has a bed of rubber that keys strikes down on to make it record the keystroke. A membrane keyboard is pretty standard and affordable, my wife uses one because she dislikes the mechanical keyboard for the keystroke clicking sounds. I, however, always use a mechanical keyboard, even when my previous board broke and I had to acquire a no-name import one. Nothing makes a gamer appreciate their gear like when they have to use some temporary replacement parts that aren’t quite cutting it, only to upgrade again.

The Razer Ornata V2 Hybrid Gaming Keyboard gives you the quiet membrane of a standard keyboard while also providing the characteristic click of mechanical keys. It works by creating a hybrid key that presses into the membrane but still has the click and key buildup of a mechanical key. The very creative combination results in a keyboard tactically feeling like a mechanical one still but the quiet is just slightly louder than a membrane-only keyboard.

Razer always commits itself to quality as well as forward thinking so you know your gear will be solid as well as effective. You get quality heavy weave material around the USB cable and there are three different directions you can route the cable out from under the keyboard for cable management. It comes with a plush, and detachable, palm rest that attaches to the keyboard via strong magnets. It has an easy-to-navigate media key area in the upper right corner of the board that has play, rewind, and fast forward keys. It even features a ridged media wheel which works great for quick sound adjustments when you are blasting your game or tunes and someone pops in to talk. Better still, it’s also programmable for whatever you can think of!

Razer has also been a champion of lighting effects and the Ornata V2 isn’t any difference. With Razer Chroma RGB’s 16.8 million colors, a bunch of built-in lighting effects, and the ability to reprogram it all giving gamers tons of lighting flexibility, this is a fine-looking keyboard. Reprogramming keys has always been a selling point of Razer keyboards, so you can fully reprogram the keys to make profiles, bindings and macros. It’s even Xbox One compatible giving your console play some shiny good times.

If there is any complaint to be made, it might be that the Razer Ornata V2 could use a few more bells and whistles as it is somewhat more spartan when compared to other Razer boards, probably to help keep the cost at a midpoint. I miss the USB pass through ports which made peripheral management, especially when traveling, so much easier. It does make sense to have the keyboard very user friendly with no learning curve since it is designed to attract users who don’t normally get gaming keyboards and ease back the sound levels for users who want a keyboard that is a bit quieter.

The Razer Ornata V2 Hybrid Gaming Keyboard has made me a believer that you can have a membrane key work great while gaming and have a mechanical key that is quiet throughout the house. There are gamers out there who will remain purists and only play a normal mechanical boards and there will be writers out there that can’t bring themselves to give a clicking keyboard a chance. To all of them I say it’s their loss, this keyboard will just make computer time better!

Review of the Dread X Collection (PC)

One of the wonderful things about horror is that it doesn’t usually take much to take root in your mind especially late at night, alone at home. It can be immensely engulfing or leave you standing back yelling at the screen for someone not to go in there. It’s in this way that a game can be even more immersive than a movie because you are controlling what happens on the screen, you are making decisions that will affect the outcome of the storyline. This storyline doesn’t have to be long to be engaging, the demo P.T put out to tease Silent Hills is a great example. We will probably never see Silent Hills come to be but P.T., which takes place in just a single hallway, will do down as a great horror game even if it is a bit short. It is with the idea that horror games don’t need to be multi-million dollar productions or be 20 hours long that DreadXP has compiled a collection of 10 teaser length projects called the Dread X Collection.

The concept is simply this: 10 different indie video game developers were given the task of creating a game in 7 days with the idea of a P.T. style teaser in mind. The developers were free to do any style of game they want to as long as they complete it on schedule then DreadXP, the sister site to Dread Central, packaged the 10 games together into the selections below.

Rotgut:

The first game I hopped into was one made by the developers of Soda Drinker Pro called Rotgut. The title is done is a sprawling writing that looks like maybe a kid’s writing done with crayon. The game is about going to a rave in the woods and starting to experience things which may be an awakening of bad things… or maybe you gotten dosed and you have to walk it off. This game is a prime example as to why you should always have a buddy system when partying. Deciding that the rave is too boring the player eventually starts walking down a long tunnel covered in weird graffiti. After seeming to walk forever things definitely take a twist as the game slowly builds up suspense. Going for a mix between P.T. with Soda Drinker, Rotgut gets odd if not necessarily scary which is about what you would expect from SDP developers. Definitely have headsets on because the sound plays a big part. In my opinion this is the weakest of the games with glitches tha are fine with a 7 day build but it doesn’t seem to fully stick the conclusion either.

Mr. Bucket Told Me To:

The name of the game kind of loans itself to being interesting, my first thought was of Wilson in Castaway of he had been a sand castle building bucket at the beach. Generally when inanimate objects tell you to do something it’s not a very good thing and this really is no different. Unlike in Castaway though things get a lot less hospitable when the sun goes down and the freaks come out at night. Also unlike Tom Hanks in that movie you have a whole bunch of “friends” wearing drawn on smiley faces like Mr. Towel, Mr. Spear and we can’t forget Mr. Bowl who tells the greatest jokes. You get the picture. Will having more friends make the night’s go by better or just give you more to worry about in the darkness? Liked the ending song too. Short but looks nice.

The Pay Is Nice:

The Pay Is Nice is a very narrative game where you play a scientist working for a clandestine company that apparently got head hunted and offered your current job. What is it? Well you’ll have to play the game to find out, though one thing you can say no matter what: the pay is nice. The narrator is starting his day, storing things in his personal locker, entering high security sections with intimidating doors and low ambient light which brings the impression of underground or at a minimum you are going deeper and deeper into a facility. The character you are playing seems a little odd, he randomly tells you some very personal information which seems to have very little to do with his job where “the pay is nice”. It reminds me a lot of the original Alone in the Dark where you have a downward 3rd person angle of the character that you are moving around in a large dimly lit place. It’s a bit short and really does feel like the intro to a game. If this were a P.T. style teaser for a game I would definitely give the game a play. As long as the price is nice.

Don’t Go Outside:

This game is really unique and learning how to play it is part of the challenge. It has old school Super Nintendo level graphics mixed with a kind of Blizzard Hearthstone card playing game. You cruise around a dark dungeon with a tight time limit using real time strategy movement and playing cards you have been dealt to try to get through it. Using great sound effects and and a slasher style font odds are you will be playing this game a few times over just to get used to the brutal gameplay, and that’s a good thing. You get a feeling of accomplishment doing good in this game. Not gonna say much more about this than I want this teaser to become a game badly.

Outsiders:

This is the game I was anticipating the most, the trailer I saw for it showed it to have an almost P.T. style game while still being it’s own. The graphics are nice quality almost photo realistic as you cruise around a house looking for… something. You find yourself eventually going outside… which the name of the game kinda warns you that you may have wanted to stay inside instead. Making me think of a creepier nighttime version of Children Of The Corn I found myself wishing I had put a baseball diamond in place of the cornfield so that all I only had to worry about old ball players. Make sure you don’t give up after the first time, it changes between playthroughs making it a definite winner for a teaser because if you find yourself playing a demo more than once odds are you would love the full length game. Dear Developers at Mahelyk, please use this as a proof of concept and get a whole game made out of it. Dear Players, make sure you play until the end. This was my favorite of the lot.

Hand Of Doom:

Doooooommm! Gloooooom! How about a magic themed game with a Doom or Wolfenstein 3D level of graphics (bad enough to make the connection but cleaner than their predecessors)and a great creepy soundtrack? Playing it took me back the years to those other games so fast and yet I could appreciate it’s focus on casting instead of shooting which made it smarter than just point and shoot. To open doors you need one spell, to light up something you need another. All spells consist of ETH, ORT, TAL, and IST (possibly a bit of blood here and there too). Their order, repetition and whether or not one is used at all depends on the spell. Basically it’s a fun puzzler dropped into an old school FPS. It easily was my second favorite of these games and had a nice amount of playtime. I really want a game, maybe a series of them, made from this.

Carthanc:

A game that has nice graphics when you can see them, Carthanc is a first person dungeon crawler with an updated puzzle system where instead of shooting a gun you set up a flood light. In a tomb with limited oxygen you need to solve the light and darkness of the dead pharaohs without annoying the screaming, fast-moving spirits. Negotiating this game is hard and fast which might result in more than one run at a section of it, the sooner you are comfortable with this the more you will appreciate working along through some decently difficult parts. Right about the time I got particularly in my groove it was the end. Please make this, it’s definitely a great start.

Shatter:

Shatter starts out with a bit of a different starter screen, it lets you choose an empty slot to save your game to. Some of the other games may have offered different difficulty levels so players can still get the whole story if they aren’t that great with that style of play but want to know the story. I think this is the only one I remember that let’s you save your play which I always appreciate on a game. I might not put the save system to use but I always like knowing it’s there if I decide to, so that say I’m playing at the office on lunch I can save it and finish it the next day.

Of course being able to save gameplay doesn’t matter much if the gameplay isn’t worth coming back to. This game also has an old Wolfenstein 3D low graphic feel as you travel through a maze of destroyed streets, cars, toilets (there is a used full bowl you pass) and the background is destroyed skyscrapers. You find out that “Gods rule everything outside London” in the shape of giant pink murder hornets which I have to admit look kinda scary when they are the size of a house. There is an actual story in this game and missions to complete which is even more impressive considering they only had a week for the entire game.

Summer Time:

This is one of the games I was most looking forward to since I was just about the perfect age for Tiger handheld games when they hit the scene and owned a few over the years, some bought new others at garage sales. Over time they went by the wayside though due to inactivity which made this game that much more inviting.

The screen looks just like one of the handheld games to the point of even having art around the screen and controls on the screen just for appearances. Using WASD you move your little guy across the old school LCD looking screen to collect mushrooms and falling stars while dodging monkeys throwing their poop onto the screen to block you. Bigger badass bad guys show up as you progress all while you are starting to run low on batteries which means game over. It’s fairly simple but quickly addictive and feels like a complete mini game though I wouldn’t mind a longer version coming out with more creepy foes and things to collect. Make sure you play all the way until the end…

The Pony Factory:

This was another title I was looking forward to playing and it didn’t disappoint. It goes for a noir feel right off the top with everything being black and white and lots of dark spaces and tunnels in a basement maze of damaged walls and piles of who knows what on the ground you have to walk on. Just so you know you have a reason to be concerned, also a reason to want to keep your bolt gun close, sometimes the game will allow a little more color… like red for blood. I highly recommend playing it in the dark and with headphones on. Just not before bed though, you might not find yourself getting much sleep afterwards. The game even has multiple difficulty levels and a “Lights Out” mode. Very nice work.

Worth It?:

The Dread X Collection is a great demonstration of using demonstrations as an art form and even with that challenge they only had 7 days/nights to do it in. The results really are both fun and amazing, I have spent more money on far worse games than most in this collection. A couple are a bit rough but when considering the time restriction it’s crazy they aren’t all a sheer mess, yet alone having some real gaming gems in the midst. The price is only $6.99 which is stunning and part of the money goes to Doctors Without Borders dedicated to dealing with COVID19 out in the field. Helping the world and getting some great gameplay for a remarkable price? That should tip the scales in the worth it category if they needed tipping. Now give these developers money so they can take care of the cliffhangers and give us some full length games!

Maneater Review (PC)

I grew up on a commercial bait boat which meant I saw all manner of fish but the two things that always impressed me most were dolphins and sharks. Dolphins I would sometimes see as far as the horizon, jumping and playing together as well as playing with the boat. I would sit and look down to see dolphins just barely staying ahead of the boat flapping their tails from one side of the bow to the other always looking like they were having great fun. Sharks however were more like ocean protectors, checking us out to make sure they didn’t need to come in and chew our asses up for being up to no good. I saw dozens of them, from sand sharks to great whites with even a couple hammerheads in there as well, over the years. Even today when I see them in aquariums sharks still seem to instill a sense of awe and majestic prowess, they never seem to lose that impression of raw power. Now try to think of Spinal Tap talking about sharks instead and you would suddenly find yourself closer to the vibe of Maneater.

Maneater is the story of an orphaned baby bull shark that has to find its way in a world full of dangers both above the surface and below, though that sounds like a fairly heavy premise it really is used little more than the story’s driving force. The story is told from a mashed up point of view between a fishing reality show like Greatest Catch where it follows different shark hunters trying to mount your jaws on their wall to a tongue-in-cheek Shark Week style narration of the shark while it swims around. The end result is surprisingly enthralling, I was paying close attention to everything and enjoying the story a lot which is nice since the storyline could have easily been just a throw away.

Gameplay is sandbox style with controls map styles very similar to GTA or Saints Row. If you have played either one then you will get the hang of the primary controls which move you horizontally as well as vertically like when you fly a plane in those games. The big difference is flying too high in those games won’t cause you to start suffocating, if you hop on the land to eat some folks or jump on deck of a floating boat to make it into a burning one you are quite literally a fish out of water and you have a little corner meter that will show your breath loss until it gets too low then starts subtracting from the health line. As soon as you go back in the water then your breathing meter refills. Otherwise it has a corner mini map that can be pulled full, your cruise around taking out other fish for health or just the fun of it, if you attack too many you kick up your notoriety and they will send out shark hunters when it reaches a certain level of infamy and the greater you get it the bigger the enemies.

Also very much like those games in a good way is the upgrade system or in this case evolution. Who needs millions of years to evolve when you can learn quickly from your environment and develop armor plated skin or electronic teeth? It is pretty funny to evolve your baby shark considering sharks are believed to have hardly evolved since coming on the scene 200 million years before the dinosaurs. That being said you have three different main skill trees to work with and 11 organ upgrades. The skills are Bone Set, Bio-Electric Set and Shadow Set and each set has an upgrade for teeth, fins, body, tail and head. You earn them different ways like beating a shark bounty hunter or collecting license plates (like in the shark in Jaws) but luckily they are all fun if a bit challenging, some also require leveling up (going from baby shark to teen then adult).

It’s kind of weird to compare a game about a man-eating bull shark to GTA Vice City but aesthetically they both have some very vibrant neon colors, when you go in new areas it shows similar fonts on the screen and your mini map marks all kinds of places for missions to take out a certain number of enemies or take on a boss figure or get collectables strewn all over the map. If you are cruising along and see something or someone you want to attack you can go ahead at it. The different areas of the map have different feels and scenery, if you are in the fresh water bayou (bull sharks can live in fresh water) you have to be wary of alligators all over the place while swimming through yellow murky waters, then you head out to munch on a few bathers and you find clear waters and people filled beaches.

There is one big issue in the game and, while it isn’t a game breaker, it does take some getting used to and that is the camera angle and follow system combined with the water surface. If you have played a game where you are flying a lot you rely heavily on your camera to help you stay oriented between the ground and sky. In this game’s case it is the water and the world above the surface that act like your ground and sky but when you are in the water you have very limited view of the surface and visa versa. The results will often be that you will get attacked from underwater without being able to see your attacker below. From below isn’t as bad until you start fighting bounty hunters at which time the camera system really starts to fail. The hunters on the surface can shoot down at you without you even seeing them, all you see is a laser sight focusing in and hitting us with great damage and accuracy. The laser focusing is quick and pretty hard to dodge so that it can be hard getting through the henchmen to get to the boss. To combat this you have to do defensive rolls but at the same time you need to go to just below the boats or above the water to attack the boats which leaves you open to enemy fish and alligator attacks from below the water while you are trying to hit and destroy the boats before getting shot to death then you need to eat the people swimming for shore. If you get tagged too much you either run away really fast to eat some catfish and fix your health or you die and wind up back in your grotto.

If it seems a little hectic it is but mostly because the camera doesn’t like to follow you. I tried using both a keyboard and mouse and a game controller when trying out the game to see if maybe it was designed as a port but I found for the most part I preferred the mouse and keyboard control layout and camera angle control. That doesn’t mean it was still great, I think I have the camera controls pretty well down but when I did my fight with the first boss I didn’t know I had managed to kill him until I got a notice from the game. Since I got it for Epic I will probably stick to keyboard and mouse but both sets of controls could probably use a little shifting in the key and button binding.

Maneater is a really fun game with a huge sandbox environment of sand and water to swim or flop around in. I had high hopes jumping into the waters of this title and TripWire did not disappoint. The tongue-in-cheek over the top narration by Chris Parnell (Jerry from Rick and Morty, SNL alumni) pulls everything together making it a solid outing with lots of hours built in and high replayability, especially with all the different builds you can make. With you behind the controls it won’t be safe in the water, or the dock, the sand, the nearest submersed tunnels. You get the picture, and it is a bloody one.

The Persistence Preview (Xbox One)

In The Persistence, you die. A lot. That’s how the game is designed to go. You go in weak with a weak weapon. You will be able to pick up in game currency, weapons and tokens to improve both your gear and your physical attributes. Then you die and drop all of your weapons. Your currency survives as does your tokens and body modifications but you leave the starting room again and again from the same place into a new map. If you go up into the starting room which is known as Recovery by death or by entering it the whole map randomizes and suddenly all the rooms you explored are reset as are all the zombies. Odds are your weapons, armor and enhancements aren’t good enough to survive yet so you die and hopefully get a little better quality gear and body enhancements such as health or stronger shielding, etc.

The end results are, hopefully, that you have all your weapons up to legendary standards, all the health and shield and other improvements maxed out with a whole bunch of money to buy all the weapons and defenses while still having to play it careful in case a certain area doesn’t allow for shielding or teleportation or such. There are no saves technically, the game does progress saves after mission objectives are met but it doesn’t save your location or weapons only the quality of weapons and defenses and your monetary forms. And by progress saves I mean clearing a really big level or just updating the quality changes on a weapon or body improvements.

The idea behind The Persistence is that the whole space ship crew was turned into zombies except you and the ship AI. So the ship saves your brain and body enhancements and loads them into a new clone to run around with and try to complete missions until you die and the whole process repeats until you get the ship up and going so you and the AI can go home (reminds me a little of Ghost In The Shell). It originally came out on PSVR and is being ported which explains one of the slightly more difficult issues, head aiming. It’s a lot like standard third person shooting style where you aren’t looking down the gun instead you are aiming with a circle. It’s just a little different but you learn it fast because you use it for everything, if you want to pick something up you get it in the circle in the middle of your screen and it’s picked up. It’s also how you open doors, it’s a common VR design and not a problem once you get the hang of it since it makes it so you don’t have to click anything.

The sound and graphics on the game are really nice which makes it so that you can get pretty jumpy while playing it, you know the game is hard so jump scares are going to happen like crazy, there are so many blind corners. Everything is dark and ominous as you try to survive long enough to get a bit more currency (fabrication kits and stem cells) and hopefully some weapon blueprints so that you might last a little longer on the next run in the dark creepy shadows. The only thing that kinda pulled me out from time to time is when I was trying to complete something and I got sooo close with lots of weapons… and died with the objective in sight. That jingled my nerves in a whole different manner but that too is the nature of this game.

The original version of The Persistence had a very interesting co-op mode where they can control different traps and check out surveillance throughout the level by using an iPad! It sounds like an interesting idea that might have a hard time catching on. It reminds me offhand about the better elements of the classic game Night Trap but with an updated flair. There hasn’t been any word whether or not that element will be ported over before the game’s 5/20/20 release date or after or at all but my fingers are crossed, I would be happy running the iPad part for that.

If you like farming or the challenge farming entails then The Persistence is the game for you, if you don’t mind doing a lot of dying because they very much go hand in hand in this title. It’s a nice creepy game and playing this game late at night, struggling to get a little further along but know they are out to there waiting to get you makes for a great play.

Before We Leave Review

Before We Leave is “a non-violent city building game set in your own cozy corner of the universe”. It sounds pretty chill but then how often do you have a hexagonal real-time city builder that didn’t have zombies at the wall or players getting ready to raid you? There aren’t a lot of non-violent city builders out there right now and the ones that are out their have some kind of tension created in aspects of the game like a amusement park simulator needing to have enough trash cans and toilets set up near the fried Twinkies booth or you start getting bad reviews.

The music is mellow, the graphics are shiny with hexagonal clouds and the land on a 3D globe turns this way and that. The folks come up from an underground bunker and start with a well and a will to build on the wasteland the world became. Everything is pretty rudimentary at first, a lot of knowledge was lost while they were underground so first they settle in a bit then you start to learn new things about your world and ways to improve it. Vegetable gardens and potato farms help feed the people and the more the people explore and learn the nicer the items you can build. Like any city building sim the deeper you go into the menus usually the better your experience but this game is also nice if you want to teach a kid how to play by having them follow the instructions and getting a feel for city sims without diving in deep or more importantly stressing getting certain things made by certain times or your whole city might get wiped off the globe. The graphics are very kid friendly too with all their bright colors and the buildings are nice and a little cartoonish without getting silly.

Just like with other city sims you improve technology which helps the town be strong but also helps it to expand. At first the expanding is hexagons opening as they are uncovered but then when it starts to get a little crowded and a decent amount of knowledge has been unlocked then our expansion becomes throughout the solar system. The big dream: a multi-planet settlement. The big nightmare: the mostly non-violent space whales think you did a great job with your planets, heck the whales think they look tasty! Oops! When trying to improve the world you are living in you will also find that when you start to work with the technologies of the old world that ancestral guardians come forth to challenge your worthiness! Just a heads up. Also you got to keep an eye out for such things as pollution, don’t want to make your people unhappy.

Times are stressful right now and usually non-stressful games are either shallow or very all age feeling. Before We Leave doesn’t feel pointless or stupid, it isn’t pandering, it is engaging and smart. There is no rule that you can’t build and chill. Even though there isn’t some fear of zerging you have things you need to do to keep things moving, you want to expand and build because the sky isn’t the limit and who knows what new things you might learn on another planet… maybe you’ll pay a little more attention to your city layout so you don’t have a potato farm planted in the middle of the town square. Rookie mistake!

Las Vegas ToyCon 2020 Post-Mortem

This year definitely started off interesting for the world at large and we here at GamingShogun.com are not immune from the effects. The lives of the staff were already shaken up when the year began and now that there is Covid-19 everywhere this year so far looks to be a greater challenge as it goes by than any of us could have expected. With everyone coming to the reality that life will be a terrifying challenge just living for a while they have also come to the realization that the more time they spend with other people the more likely they are to pass it on to to friends and family. A person could go to a party, get Covid-19and take it home and cause the death of family members. It sounds melodramatic or something straight out of a horror book or movie (good old Captain Trips!) but in this case we are lucky that it is a little slower passing and we have tests that went from being over a week for results to just a few hours. Still it passes and thousands of people are dying every day. When it came time to make policy as to how to handle the virus there was conflicting information and a delay in closing things down which allowed us to have one last convention hurrah in Las Vegas in the shape of ToyCon 2020.

Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t like the spring break parties that have been going on ever since school closed, actually everybody was there to have fun but it was a bit more somber of a show, there was a lot less hugs going around and people were social distancing. There were sanitizer stations all over the place and many people came with gloves though there was a remarkably low number of masks, I think I saw more gas masked cosplay and plague doctors than I saw actual protection. Also generally there are very few if any cancellations by celebrities, guests and vendors since the convention is in Vegas and many of the stars who do the convention circuit get to meet up and hang out with each other doing Vegas nights and toys by day. The local vendors get to sell their wares to visiting guests and public who can then turn around and promote the vendors and fellow guests wherever they call home. ToyCon has always had that balance.

In previous years the tables for the guests were in the open for autograph signing and in a curtained booth that looks a little like a large voting booth for the private photo sessions. This year as a crowd control measure as well as a Covid-19 precaution the celebrities were in two different rooms, one said autographs on the door, the other said photo ops and there were signs outside the autograph booth for VIP signing which I think they tried to control how many people were in with the celebs at any time limiting exposure. Generally we here at GS like to get shots of the autograph sessions and the lines for both but respecting the managements efforts I did interrupt or circumvent their setup so pictures are of the rest of the event and cosplay. There were also some very understandable cancellations by celebrities, guests and vendors which made the show a bit more intimate but didn’t take away from the overall vibe.

Another thing that you find at ToyCon is that its not just about toys. That is it’s official subject but it is also about Garbage Pail Kids as one of the conventions at the event under the “ToyCon” umbrella is Gross Con where every year the contributors to all those crazy sticker collections such as Garbage Pail Kids, Cereal Killers and other gross out art come together for a weekend. They come from all over to celebrate their passion because for most of them it isn’t their day job, they have to work hard so they can come to conventions and try to keep the silly craziness of gross out stickers alive. Garbage Pail kids is in it’s 30s now and they show signs of a revival which I hope very much that they are successful with because I love all the cards, not just the one based on my name.

It can’t be a toy con if it doesn’t have toys and whoa mama they run the gambit on that. They have little Lego men for just about every comic book, tv show and movie, they have comics, collectible hot wheels and matchbox cars, Pop! figures, cosplay costumes and accessories, they even have someone who has metal batterangs and throwing playing cards. I came across some of my favorite toys from Alien I had as a kid then bought a couple Jaws themed pins for my best friend. Luckily I also bought lots of comics to read while getting through this social shutdown outside the house.

There was a big question right up until a couple days before the show as to whether or not the toy show must go on and they went for it. It brings up the question if it was a little late in the process to still have it but there were also people who had planned on it for months and for many of the vendors it was their last sales before they would be shut down with no shows and no store fronts. It does bring up the question of all the folks who have to run their businesses online now, could that still be a dangerous spreader of CoVid19? How many attendees have touched their merchandise at a con to be sold afterwards online?
That can be debated but the real deal is this, ToyCon2020 was a bit smaller than previous years but they still put on a great show, one of the last for who knows how long. Will the next one be Las Vegas ToyCon next year? Only if reports of it’s demise have been greatly exaggerated

Great American Comic Con Las Vegas 2019 Post-Mortem

It used to be that you couldn’t find a comic convention in Las Vegas no matter how hard you searched. Thankfully, times have changed in Las Vegas and the surrounding valley and one of the better ones out there is the Great American Comic Convention Las Vegas.

Celebrating its fourth year in Las Vegas, the convention surprisingly didn’t have growing pains the first year it was immediately off and running from the go. One of my favorite aspects of GACCLV is it has always had Silver age writers, colorists, and inkers – pretty much every part of the big productions from the big companies like Marvel, DC, Image, and others while at the same time having current age workers from the big boys to the indie ash cans publishers. There are the up and comers and there are the old school fringe folks and everything in between. The bigger names will have lines to meet, greet and sign but that doesn’t deter them from stopping for a moment and chatting, the one on one time with all the different comic book people is one of the best aspects of the con.

If you find yourself at the Great American Comic Convention Las Vegas and suddenly you notice that there is a comic guy you always wanted to get an autograph from there are two quick solutions: first would be to stop by there table and purchase directly from the signer the book/poster/whatever you signed or you can hit the tons of comic booths located throughout the hall, there really are a lot to choose from.If you want a book to get signed you can not only find graded comics you can find other nice quality ones, get them signed and take them to the booth that grades them! Some of the comic people even bring there own notary to do certificate of authenticity. It isn’t uncommon to see someone walk in with no comics only to leave with graded signed comics in protective sleeves or to pick up the special comic cover or poster for the event and getting it signed. There are a lot of comic conventions out there where comics have kind of fallen to the side, luckily this isn’t one of them.

Personally I like to read comics more than I do collect them. For folks like me there are boxes and boxes of comics that are between 50 cents and $1.00. This time I decided to collect comics from Shimp Sons, a local favorite, and I collected some silly fun 3-D comics including a 10th anniversary Star Wars one that is so much fun to me, a guy with a Wookiee tattooed on his shoulder. There are booths that feature certain kinds of comics or toys like Red Hood that often brings comics but this time brought tons of Star Wars toys and lots of booths with handcrafts from little towers that roll D&D dice to handcrafted cosplay costumes to charity companies that sell different goods and donate to the weekend charity auction. A personal new favorite of mine is the Wild Bill’s Soda Company with it’s handcrafted drinks where you buy a refillable tin cup that you can bring back for refills, YUM.

There’s more to the convention than booths, though it is easy to fill up your time looking at them all and paging through the art. There are lots of panels as well. Some give tips for cosplay creations, one was about 1980’s Marvel, another was the full team behind the storyline of Venom: Lethal Protector. So if you always wanted to hear a panel on “Page To Screen: Comic Book Movies”or “Designing Over-The-Knee Boots” and Inside The Mind Of A Madman: Breaking Down The WB’s Joker” this is the show to go to.

Great American Comic Convention Las Vegas is in the books for 2019 but it’s never too early to plan for next year, while I’m still reading the comics I got I’m already tucking movie aside for next year’s buys.  I can’t wait.

Photo Gallery

Tom Clancey’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Blair Witch Review (Steam)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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