Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start writing!

Search between a mysterious hatch, a giant rock lady, and a precarious flatbed – Fortnite Challenge guide

This map will lead you straight to week 8’s hidden star

Continue reading…

Source: Polygon]]>

Release dates are the newest way to influence how, and where, you buy games

Release dates now have to serve many different masters

Continue reading…

Source: Polygon]]>

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review – No Frowning, No Sad Faces

Like every game in the series before it, Kingdom Hearts 3 begins by playing its theme, Dearly Beloved, over the title screen. Composed by acclaimed musician Yoko Shimomura, it perfectly captures the sentimentality at the heart of the series. The song is at once tender and melancholic, wistful and adventurous, somber and uplifting–a reminder of a history that’ll leave longtime fans dewy-eyed. I wish I could properly convey the impact of hearing it, but the best I can do is to say that it is overwhelming.

The only way to really understand the emotions Dearly Beloved stirs is to have connected with the franchise and its characters; to have followed their journeys over its 17-year history, for better or worse. The nostalgia for and investment in Kingdom Hearts as a franchise is incredibly powerful, so much so that it helped me push through the rougher patches in what is overall an enjoyable, if uneven, third entry in the core series. Kingdom Hearts 3 is preoccupied with fan service to a fault, and it also struggles to stay coherent under the weight of its own convoluted lore. But it’s also everything fans love about the series: a thrilling action-RPG that celebrates Disney and Pixar, all the while ensuring themes of friendship, heroism, and pure-hearted goodness shine bright.

At times, those themes can be difficult to discern, particularly when the game is intent on telling the grander story of Kingdom Hearts as opposed to the smaller tales centered around Disney’s iconic characters or Sora’s innocent idealism. Given it’s the concluding chapter in a massive story arc, it can’t be faulted for having this fixation, but the execution is frustrating nonetheless. Kingdom Hearts 3 is bogged down in the finer details of its lore, so much so that–for all but the most clued-in fans–it can be difficult to get a sense of what our three main heroes are actually trying to accomplish.

At its broadest, the story of Kingdom Hearts 3 involves Sora, Donald, and Goofy preparing for an upcoming war against the forces of darkness by gathering the Guardians of Light. This is oversimplification to its most extreme, but to delve into the finer details would require lengthy explanations of numerous confounding concepts and characters. It is undoubtedly messy, but for fans who have committed to playing all the games and been studious enough to join the dots along the way, it makes sense. For those that aren’t as well-versed in Kingdom Hearts, the essentials of the story aren’t laid out nearly as clear as they need to be.

The bloated state of Kingdom Hearts’ lore is the result of numerous spin-offs and sequels that introduced new characters to explore back- and side-stories. Contained in their own games, these characters had the room to breathe, establish themselves, and have full narrative arcs. However, when united in one game, each is diminished in both characterization and impact. Kingdom Hearts 3 attempts to take all the disparate narrative threads from across its many games–and the characters tied up in them–and weave them together into one concluding story, and the result is incoherent to say the least. It doesn’t help that numerous characters look the same, or that some are time-travelling versions of themselves. Others, meanwhile, are reincarnations that have taken on a new form or exist inside the heart of yet another character. There are also a few that used to have one name, but now have another, but both names are used depending on who is talking about them. Before long all of these characters are elbow to elbow, vying for screen time and pulling the story in so many different directions that it becomes difficult to find its center again. The handful that are critical to the plot inevitably become lost among the many bit-parters that feel like they’re in the game as fan service, instead of being meaningful to the story.

If Kingdom Hearts 3 had stronger writing it may have been possible to highlight key details and figures for the player to latch onto; a chance to see through the crowd of faces and pick out the ones most important. However, the writing largely makes proceedings even harder to follow. The villains in particular–many of which are members of Organization XIII–spout inane lines that are purposefully vague. Presumably this was to build mystery, but it only serves to muddy motivations and further obscure the crux of the story. Otherwise, they’re delivering cheesy dialogue that feels at odds with the sincere melodrama happening around them.

At its core, Kingdom Hearts 3 is a heartfelt tale of enduring friendship, and the narrative is at its strongest when it narrows its focus to just this

This is a shame because, at its core, Kingdom Hearts 3 is a heartfelt tale of enduring friendship, and the narrative is at its strongest when it narrows its focus to just this. Sora, the hero of the series, continues to be plucky and lovably naive. His greatest facets are his strength of heart, his ability to make friends with anyone, and his devotion to them–he is the archetypal wholesome good boy. Joining him once again is Donald Duck, stuffy and prone to outbursts but a trustworthy companion; and Goofy, slightly dimwitted but also the emotional anchor of the group.

The endearing trio’s adventures through the Disney and Pixar worlds featured in Kingdom Hearts 3, as well as the interactions they have with the characters within them, are a reminder that beneath the tortuous lore are smaller stories that resonate. By keeping the bigger Keyblade Wars story in the periphery and having minimal involvement from all those involved with it, these stories are clearer and more concise. The underlying themes of Kingdom Hearts harmonize with those of Disney’s own properties so well that each new world Sora journeys to delivers an impactful moment of storytelling. In Toy Box, Sora helps Woody, Buzz, and the gang find their missing friends, as they also grapple with the idea that they live in a world where Andy doesn’t exist. In Arendelle, he meets Anna, who is desperately trying to reconnect with her sister, Queen Elsa, and gets caught up in the family drama. In San Fransokyo, Sora assists Hiro and the Big Hero 6 team as they battle Microbots and find a forgotten friend. Admittedly, some of these stories retread old ground, but whether it’s Tangled, Pirates of the Caribbean, Winnie The Pooh, Monsters Inc., or Hercules, experiencing them again through the lens of Kingdom Hearts 3 still packs an emotional punch. It’s hard not to get swept up by the exaggerated displays of heroics or earnest reminders that your friends exist in your heart.

One of the strengths of Kingdom Hearts 3 is the care and attention it pays to bringing Disney’s worlds to life, which, in turn, makes being in them all the more exciting. You get to wander around Andy’s bedroom as a diminutive toy version of Sora, scaling his walls and jumping on his toys, before making a trip to the mall. There you visit various toy shops, leaping on top of display units and between shelves as you battle the enemy Heartless. Returning to Kingdom Hearts 2’s Twilight Town comes with a wave of nostalgia, as you hang around in the square watching a Mickey Mouse movie projected on a wall or visit the mansion where Namine stood at the window all those years back. Venture to the Pirates of the Caribbean world and the game adopts a striking, realistic visual style, swapping Sora and friends from their usual vibrant visages to a muddier tone in line with the movies’ color palette. It then gives you command of your own ship with Jack Sparrow at your side. 100 Acre Wood shifts to the warmer pastels of a storybook aesthetic, as you help Rabbit tend to his garden so that Pooh can get some honey. San Fransokyo makes great use of verticality and Sora’s ability to effortlessly run up buildings and glide between rooftops. At night it transforms into a blinding neon cityscape, inviting you to fly between floating blimps and grind rails with Baymax flying in tow. Monsteropolis has you working with Sully and Mike to stop Randal seizing control of Monsters Inc., and all the while Boo adorably potters along next to you.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Many of the worlds offer extra gameplay activities to engage with after the story within them is wrapped up. Toy Box puts you in a Final Fantasy XV parody where you’re in a mech destroying enemies and chasing high scores. Traverse Town has a cooking mini-game which involves collecting ingredients from across the worlds and then bringing them to Ratatouille’s Remy to make meals. Pirates of the Caribbean lets you sail the open sea in search of treasure and do battle with enemy ships, or defend Port Royale in a wave-based mini-game. The amount of gameplay variety in Kingdom Hearts 3 is impressive, and although the extras may be short-term distractions, for those who want to spend more time in their favourite worlds, they’re a fun reason to make the return trip.

Not all worlds maintain that high bar, however, as some feel either empty or lacking in what they offer. Arendelle’s snow-covered terrain, for example, feels quite bland, and the main mission involves climbing a mountain multiple times. Port Royale is an entire location used primarily for an item hunt. Toy Box’s mall is devoid of life beyond the toys and enemies–it would have been nice to have people around to make it feel more alive, instead of like an after-hours shopping center. The same can be said of San Fransokyo which, on ground level, feels eerily deserted for a metropolis.

The bulk of Kingdom Hearts 3’s gameplay, however, is in its sword-swinging, magic-conjuring combat, which feels fast, frenetic, and spectacular in its cinematic flourishes. Its combat mechanics are an evolution of Kingdom Hearts 2’s, which themselves have been tweaked and refined in the various spin-off titles. The most noticeable change is in its fluidity; Sora moves between enemies quickly, delivering a barrage of attacks, seamlessly transitioning into casting Fira to set enemies ablaze or Cura to recover health. There’s a pleasing forward momentum to all the battles, as you zip around dispatching enemies in quick succession.

There are numerous layers on top of the basic combat mechanics which, while not adding a great deal of depth or strategic considerations, make for more exciting skirmishes. Keyblades now come in a number of flavours to match the Disney worlds they’re unlocked from. As part of this, they also have Formchanges, which are exactly what they sound like. As you land attack buttons, a meter builds up, and you are eventually given the option to transform your Keyblade into more over-the-top forms, where more powerful attacks and abilities become available. The game shows creative flare in these transformations too; Wheel of Fate, unlocked in the Pirates world, becomes an oversized spear and then the mast of a ship with the flag attached. Happy Gear, found in Monsters Inc., transforms into a set of high-speed claws and then a pair of yo-yos. Hunny Spout morphs into a pair of twin pistols and then a launcher, both firing honey at enemies.

The amount of gameplay variety in Kingdom Hearts 3 is impressive … for those who want to spend more time in their favourite worlds, [mini-games] are a fun reason to make the return trip

Magic works similarly, with repeated use of a spell eventually making a Grand Magic version available at no additional mana cost. Throughout, Donald and Goofy will call to Sora for a team-up attack. For the former this could be a salvo of colorful fireworks that damage everyone in your vicinity. For the latter you can leap into the sky and throw Goofy at an enemy, with his shield causing an explosion on impact. These are characters that have fought many battles side by side, so having these back and forths are a nice representation of the camaraderie between them and their growth across the series–not to mention they’re eye-catching cinematic moments.

Feeding into the Disney milieu further are attractions such as tea cups, water rafts, bumper cars, and a rollercoaster that can be summoned to dish out damage. Each one controls differently, either through timed button presses, using the analogue stick to guide their path, or becoming a first-person shooter to pinpoint specific enemies, injecting a different style of combat gameplay into the action at regular intervals. Other Disney characters such as Simba, Stitch, and Ariel can also be called into battle, functioning similarly to Final Fantasy’s summons to unleash devastating special attacks. Their inclusion is welcome, in lieu of giving them their own worlds, as some have had in past games. Beyond that there’s Flowmotion, which builds a sense of speed by encouraging you to dash into objects in the environment to swing around, or at walls to parkour along. It can be tricky to get a handle of, but once you’re able to work these moves into the flow of combat, you build a sense of prowess over the battlefield.

Watching battles unfold, you’d be forgiven for thinking that combat is a complicated dance of fingers across buttons, but everything is actually achieved with one or two taps. Kingdom Hearts 3 is simple to play, which works in its favour. It prioritizes spectacle above all else and delivers tremendously. Instead of having to focus too much on what you’re pressing and when, you can enjoy the madness unfolding on screen. This is a game that shows off and wows you with dazzling lights, explosive sounds, and high-octane action, and you don’t want to miss a second of it. That’s not to say it’s completely devoid of strategic considerations, but you’ll need to play on the harder Proud difficulty level if you want the game to challenge you. Otherwise–barring a few end game bosses–the enemies are pushovers.

Another feature that makes its return from Kingdom Hearts of old is the Gummi Ship. Sora and his crew are able to pilot a spaceship as they travel to new worlds, at which point the game becomes a shoot-em-up of sorts. While Gummi Ship segments in the past were on-rails, this time you have full freedom to fly where you please, using wormholes and boost pads to explore quicker. Space is littered with treasures to find, but you’ll often have to battle enemies to acquire them. The shooting in the Gummi Ship, while serviceable, isn’t satisfying. The combination of lackluster visual and auditory feedback makes it hard to tell whether you’re actually doing any damage, and for the most part I found myself absentmindedly holding the fire button down and waiting for things to explode. It is possible to create your own ships and outfit them with more weapons and augmented support abilities, but the fundamental shooting remains unchanged and uninteresting.

As the game reaches its conclusion, the balance shifts heavily in favour of non-Disney worlds, where the main story of Kingdom Hearts can play out and resolve itself. Many of the environments this happens in are striking, from a pristine white city to strange modular arenas that can be turned upside down at the whim of an enemy. But in these locales the game trades the heart and whimsy of the worlds up until that point for heavy-handed storytelling that inevitably culminates in battles that are impressive set-pieces but feel cheap and spammy to play. With the finish line in sight, the game disrupts the pace with one arduous boss fight after another–not challenging in any way, just more of slog. The payoff, meanwhile, isn’t entirely worth it, as Kingdom Hearts 3 wraps up its story in an incredibly unfulfilling way.

But the story of Keyblade wars, time-travelling villains, body-hopping also-rans, and world-ending darkness isn’t what I’ll remember about Kingdom Hearts 3 or the series as a whole. What sticks with me is the exciting battle against elemental titans with Hercules, taking Rapunzel out into the unfamiliar wide world for the first time, snapping selfies with Winnie the Pooh, and going toe to toe with Davy Jones. In 2002, as Sora, I left Destiny Islands to travel across the universe and make new friends. In 2019 I brought old ones home, and I had so much fun doing it.

Source: GameSpot Reviews]]>

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review – Dearly Beloved

Like every game in the series before it, Kingdom Hearts 3 begins by playing its theme, Dearly Beloved, over the title screen. Composed by acclaimed musician Yoko Shimomura, it perfectly captures the sentimentality at the heart of the series. The song is at once tender and melancholic, wistful and adventurous, somber and uplifting–a reminder of a history that’ll leave longtime fans dewy-eyed. I wish I could properly convey the impact of hearing it, but the best I can do is to say that it is overwhelming.

The only way to really understand the emotions Dearly Beloved stirs is to have connected with the franchise and its characters; to have followed their journeys over its 17-year history, for better or worse. The nostalgia for and investment in Kingdom Hearts as a franchise is incredibly powerful, so much so that it helped me push through the rougher patches in what is overall an enjoyable, if uneven, third entry in the core series. Kingdom Hearts 3 is preoccupied with fan service to a fault, and it also struggles to stay coherent under the weight of its own convoluted lore. But it’s also everything fans love about the series: a thrilling action-RPG that celebrates Disney and Pixar, all the while ensuring themes of friendship, heroism, and pure-hearted goodness shine bright.

At times, those themes can be difficult to discern, particularly when the game is intent on telling the grander story of Kingdom Hearts as opposed to the smaller tales centered around Disney’s iconic characters or Sora’s innocent idealism. Given it’s the concluding chapter in a massive story arc, it can’t be faulted for having this fixation, but the execution is frustrating nonetheless. Kingdom Hearts 3 is bogged down in the finer details of its lore, so much so that–for all but the most clued-in fans–it can be difficult to get a sense of what our three main heroes are actually trying to accomplish.

At its broadest, the story of Kingdom Hearts 3 involves Sora, Donald, and Goofy preparing for an upcoming war against the forces of darkness by gathering the Guardians of Light. This is oversimplification to its most extreme, but to delve into the finer details would require lengthy explanations of numerous confounding concepts and characters. It is undoubtedly messy, but for fans who have committed to playing all the games and been studious enough to join the dots along the way, it makes sense. For those that aren’t as well-versed in Kingdom Hearts, the essentials of the story aren’t laid out nearly as clear as they need to be.

The bloated state of Kingdom Hearts’ lore is the result of numerous spin-offs and sequels that introduced new characters to explore back- and side-stories. Contained in their own games, these characters had the room to breathe, establish themselves, and have full narrative arcs. However, when united in one game, each is diminished in both characterization and impact. Kingdom Hearts 3 attempts to take all the disparate narrative threads from across its many games–and the characters tied up in them–and weave them together into one concluding story, and the result is incoherent to say the least. It doesn’t help that numerous characters look the same, or that some are time-travelling versions of themselves. Others, meanwhile, are reincarnations that have taken on a new form or exist inside the heart of yet another character. There are also a few that used to have one name, but now have another, but both names are used depending on who is talking about them. Before long all of these characters are elbow to elbow, vying for screen time and pulling the story in so many different directions that it becomes difficult to find its center again. The handful that are critical to the plot inevitably become lost among the many bit-parters that feel like they’re in the game as fan service, instead of being meaningful to the story.

If Kingdom Hearts 3 had stronger writing it may have been possible to highlight key details and figures for the player to latch onto; a chance to see through the crowd of faces and pick out the ones most important. However, the writing largely makes proceedings even harder to follow. The villains in particular–many of which are members of Organization XIII–spout inane lines that are purposefully vague. Presumably this was to build mystery, but it only serves to muddy motivations and further obscure the crux of the story. Otherwise, they’re delivering cheesy dialogue that feels at odds with the sincere melodrama happening around them.

At its core, Kingdom Hearts 3 is a heartfelt tale of enduring friendship, and the narrative is at its strongest when it narrows its focus to just this

This is a shame because, at its core, Kingdom Hearts 3 is a heartfelt tale of enduring friendship, and the narrative is at its strongest when it narrows its focus to just this. Sora, the hero of the series, continues to be plucky and lovably naive. His greatest facets are his strength of heart, his ability to make friends with anyone, and his devotion to them–he is the archetypal wholesome good boy. Joining him once again is Donald Duck, stuffy and prone to outbursts but a trustworthy companion; and Goofy, slightly dimwitted but also the emotional anchor of the group.

The endearing trio’s adventures through the Disney and Pixar worlds featured in Kingdom Hearts 3, as well as the interactions they have with the characters within them, are a reminder that beneath the tortuous lore are smaller stories that resonate. By keeping the bigger Keyblade Wars story in the periphery and having minimal involvement from all those involved with it, these stories are clearer and more concise. The underlying themes of Kingdom Hearts harmonize with those of Disney’s own properties so well that each new world Sora journeys to delivers an impactful moment of storytelling. In Toy Box, Sora helps Woody, Buzz, and the gang find their missing friends, as they also grapple with the idea that they live in a world where Andy doesn’t exist. In Arendelle, he meets Anna, who is desperately trying to reconnect with her sister, Queen Elsa, and gets caught up in the family drama. In San Fransokyo, Sora assists Hiro and the Big Hero 6 team as they battle Microbots and find a forgotten friend. Admittedly, some of these stories retread old ground, but whether it’s Tangled, Pirates of the Caribbean, Winnie The Pooh, Monsters Inc., or Hercules, experiencing them again through the lens of Kingdom Hearts 3 still packs an emotional punch. It’s hard not to get swept up by the exaggerated displays of heroics or earnest reminders that your friends exist in your heart.

One of the strengths of Kingdom Hearts 3 is the care and attention it pays to bringing Disney’s worlds to life, which, in turn, makes being in them all the more exciting. You get to wander around Andy’s bedroom as a diminutive toy version of Sora, scaling his walls and jumping on his toys, before making a trip to the mall. There you visit various toy shops, leaping on top of display units and between shelves as you battle the enemy Heartless. Returning to Kingdom Hearts 2’s Twilight Town comes with a wave of nostalgia, as you hang around in the square watching a Mickey Mouse movie projected on a wall or visit the mansion where Namine stood at the window all those years back. Venture to the Pirates of the Caribbean world and the game adopts a striking, realistic visual style, swapping Sora and friends from their usual vibrant visages to a muddier tone in line with the movies’ color palette. It then gives you command of your own ship with Jack Sparrow at your side. 100 Acre Wood shifts to the warmer pastels of a storybook aesthetic, as you help Rabbit tend to his garden so that Pooh can get some honey. San Fransokyo makes great use of verticality and Sora’s ability to effortlessly run up buildings and glide between rooftops. At night it transforms into a blinding neon cityscape, inviting you to fly between floating blimps and grind rails with Baymax flying in tow. Monsteropolis has you working with Sully and Mike to stop Randal seizing control of Monsters Inc., and all the while Boo adorably potters along next to you.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Many of the worlds offer extra gameplay activities to engage with after the story within them is wrapped up. Toy Box puts you in a Final Fantasy XV parody where you’re in a mech destroying enemies and chasing high scores. Traverse Town has a cooking mini-game which involves collecting ingredients from across the worlds and then bringing them to Ratatouille’s Remy to make meals. Pirates of the Caribbean lets you sail the open sea in search of treasure and do battle with enemy ships, or defend Port Royale in a wave-based mini-game. The amount of gameplay variety in Kingdom Hearts 3 is impressive, and although the extras may be short-term distractions, for those who want to spend more time in their favourite worlds, they’re a fun reason to make the return trip.

Not all worlds maintain that high bar, however, as some feel either empty or lacking in what they offer. Arendelle’s snow-covered terrain, for example, feels quite bland, and the main mission involves climbing a mountain multiple times. Port Royale is an entire location used primarily for an item hunt. Toy Box’s mall is devoid of life beyond the toys and enemies–it would have been nice to have people around to make it feel more alive, instead of like an after-hours shopping center. The same can be said of San Fransokyo which, on ground level, feels eerily deserted for a metropolis.

The bulk of Kingdom Hearts 3’s gameplay, however, is in its sword-swinging, magic-conjuring combat, which feels fast, frenetic, and spectacular in its cinematic flourishes. Its combat mechanics are an evolution of Kingdom Hearts 2’s, which themselves have been tweaked and refined in the various spin-off titles. The most noticeable change is in its fluidity; Sora moves between enemies quickly, delivering a barrage of attacks, seamlessly transitioning into casting Fira to set enemies ablaze or Cura to recover health. There’s a pleasing forward momentum to all the battles, as you zip around dispatching enemies in quick succession.

There are numerous layers on top of the basic combat mechanics which, while not adding a great deal of depth or strategic considerations, make for more exciting skirmishes. Keyblades now come in a number of flavours to match the Disney worlds they’re unlocked from. As part of this, they also have Formchanges, which are exactly what they sound like. As you land attack buttons, a meter builds up, and you are eventually given the option to transform your Keyblade into more over-the-top forms, where more powerful attacks and abilities become available. The game shows creative flare in these transformations too; Wheel of Fate, unlocked in the Pirates world, becomes an oversized spear and then the mast of a ship with the flag attached. Happy Gear, found in Monsters Inc., transforms into a set of high-speed claws and then a pair of yo-yos. Hunny Spout morphs into a pair of twin pistols and then a launcher, both firing honey at enemies.

The amount of gameplay variety in Kingdom Hearts 3 is impressive … for those who want to spend more time in their favourite worlds, [mini-games] are a fun reason to make the return trip

Magic works similarly, with repeated use of a spell eventually making a Grand Magic version available at no additional mana cost. Throughout, Donald and Goofy will call to Sora for a team-up attack. For the former this could be a salvo of colorful fireworks that damage everyone in your vicinity. For the latter you can leap into the sky and throw Goofy at an enemy, with his shield causing an explosion on impact. These are characters that have fought many battles side by side, so having these back and forths are a nice representation of the camaraderie between them and their growth across the series–not to mention they’re eye-catching cinematic moments.

Feeding into the Disney milieu further are attractions such as tea cups, water rafts, bumper cars, and a rollercoaster that can be summoned to dish out damage. Each one controls differently, either through timed button presses, using the analogue stick to guide their path, or becoming a first-person shooter to pinpoint specific enemies, injecting a different style of combat gameplay into the action at regular intervals. Other Disney characters such as Simba, Stitch, and Ariel can also be called into battle, functioning similarly to Final Fantasy’s summons to unleash devastating special attacks. Their inclusion is welcome, in lieu of giving them their own worlds, as some have had in past games. Beyond that there’s Flowmotion, which builds a sense of speed by encouraging you to dash into objects in the environment to swing around, or at walls to parkour along. It can be tricky to get a handle of, but once you’re able to work these moves into the flow of combat, you build a sense of prowess over the battlefield.

Watching battles unfold, you’d be forgiven for thinking that combat is a complicated dance of fingers across buttons, but everything is actually achieved with one or two taps. Kingdom Hearts 3 is simple to play, which works in its favour. It prioritizes spectacle above all else and delivers tremendously. Instead of having to focus too much on what you’re pressing and when, you can enjoy the madness unfolding on screen. This is a game that shows off and wows you with dazzling lights, explosive sounds, and high-octane action, and you don’t want to miss a second of it. That’s not to say it’s completely devoid of strategic considerations, but you’ll need to play on the harder Proud difficulty level if you want the game to challenge you. Otherwise–barring a few end game bosses–the enemies are pushovers.

Another feature that makes its return from Kingdom Hearts of old is the Gummi Ship. Sora and his crew are able to pilot a spaceship as they travel to new worlds, at which point the game becomes a shoot-em-up of sorts. While Gummi Ship segments in the past were on-rails, this time you have full freedom to fly where you please, using wormholes and boost pads to explore quicker. Space is littered with treasures to find, but you’ll often have to battle enemies to acquire them. The shooting in the Gummi Ship, while serviceable, isn’t satisfying. The combination of lackluster visual and auditory feedback makes it hard to tell whether you’re actually doing any damage, and for the most part I found myself absentmindedly holding the fire button down and waiting for things to explode. It is possible to create your own ships and outfit them with more weapons and augmented support abilities, but the fundamental shooting remains unchanged and uninteresting.

As the game reaches its conclusion, the balance shifts heavily in favour of non-Disney worlds, where the main story of Kingdom Hearts can play out and resolve itself. Many of the environments this happens in are striking, from a pristine white city to strange modular arenas that can be turned upside down at the whim of an enemy. But in these locales the game trades the heart and whimsy of the worlds up until that point for heavy-handed storytelling that inevitably culminates in battles that are impressive set-pieces but feel cheap and spammy to play. With the finish line in sight, the game disrupts the pace with one arduous boss fight after another–not challenging in any way, just more of slog. The payoff, meanwhile, isn’t entirely worth it, as Kingdom Hearts 3 wraps up its story in an incredibly unfulfilling way.

But the story of Keyblade wars, time-travelling villains, body-hopping also-rans, and world-ending darkness isn’t what I’ll remember about Kingdom Hearts 3 or the series as a whole. What sticks with me is the exciting battle against elemental titans with Hercules, taking Rapunzel out into the unfamiliar wide world for the first time, snapping selfies with Winnie the Pooh, and going toe to toe with Davy Jones. In 2002, as Sora, I left Destiny Islands to travel across the universe and make new friends. In 2019 I brought old ones home, and I had so much fun doing it.

Source: GameSpot Reviews]]>

Jon Shafer's At The Gates Review – Fertile New Ground

In his time at Firaxis as the lead designer on Civilization V, Jon Shafer showed he wasn’t afraid to uproot a settled and successful series and venture forth in search of something better. With At The Gates, his first release under the one-man studio moniker Conifer Games and his first game proper since Civ V, you get the feeling Shafer challenged himself to pack up the whole 4X genre and find fertile new ground on which to start over again.

Connections to the past remain–technologies are researched, resource nodes are exploited, wars are inevitably waged–but Shafer’s pioneering vision here is of a genre that is narrower in scope and more concerned with how players respond to the figurative hand of cards they’re dealt. At The Gates is a promising starting point that, with a few thoughtful additions, has the potential to develop into a thriving empire.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

It all starts with a settlement. At first, you play as the Goths on a randomly generated map that represents 400 A.D. Europe. On each map is a number of rival clans, some of whom are always vastly more powerful than you are right from the start, as well as two factions of the fading, but still intimidatingly large, Roman Empire. Your aim is to grow your settlement into an empire and eventually win via one of two victory conditions: by conquering the Romans by military force or by training your own Roman Legion to assume control, i.e. an economic victory. Cleverly, factions other than the Goths are unlocked to play once you’ve met and formed an alliance with them in a previous game.

As the early turns tick by, clans of people will join the settlement and you can put them to work extracting resources from the surrounding tiles. Each clan can be trained in a profession drawn from one of six disciplines, all of which are unlocked by generating knowledge to progress through the tech tree. Early decisions are influenced by the mysteries of the randomly-generated map algorithm. If it has spawned you in an area with a lot of mineral deposits you will probably want to focus your efforts on metalworking professions, a couple of diggers to extract the iron, and, say, a dredger to multiply their production.

But how should you employ your fourth and final clan? While the map informs your strategy in certain directions, the whims of your population will often be tugging you in the complete opposite direction. Clans are randomly rolled a handful of traits when they arrive at your settlement’s door. Some traits are unambiguously beneficial, like a +1 bonus to their movement points or with a few levels already earned in the crafting discipline, while others are downright bad, like a tendency to commit crimes; others yet are merely circumstantial, like preferring an active profession like explorer over a settled one like cheese-maker.

These elements quickly start to create compelling conundrums. What do you do when, on the one hand, the mineral-rich starting area of the map might be telling you to invest in mining, but on the other hand the clans you’re being sent bear all the characteristics of some really effective soldiers? Or cheese-makers? Clans can, of course, be retrained as the need for new or more advanced professions arises, but it cannot be done instantly and any experience they had accumulated in their previous profession is lost. If you’ve only got a village of farmers and bards when the bandits turn up, you’re quickly going to regret not training at least one of them to wield a spear. Balancing the demands of the map with the skills of your clans is the core strategic concern of the entire game. Along the way–and this is where At The Gates really starts to shine–there are many ways that relationship between the map and your people can change.

No Caption Provided

For one, you’re not committed to your starting position on the map. In fact, at any moment you can pack up your settlement, move to a new location, and resettle. For the first 50-odd turns you’ll be living something of a nomadic existence, exploring the lands, foraging for food, hunting and trapping animals, and collecting wood before moving on, crossing those mountains to the eastern coast or trekking across the steppes to the lush riverlands of the south. On a mechanical level, all the early technology you have at your disposal depletes resources–send a gatherer to work a fruit tree and they’ll keep picking until the tree is exhausted. It’s not until the mid to late game that you’re able to build structures that don’t deplete a resource and, in the case of a fruit plantation, can even replenish it. And it’s at this point that you’ll want to have found somewhere to make your permanent home.

This makes for an early game flow that is fascinating and unusual for the 4X genre. You want to be researching technology and training clans to suit your immediate situational needs, while also identifying (but, crucially, not yet exploiting) a resource-rich region you can later claim for your eventual empire. Sometimes this is straightforward enough–in one game I spawned on a narrow land bridge connecting two continents. I fished and picked berries until I was ready to journey southeast and declare my kingdom in a river valley full of wheat and horses. Other times it’s more challenging, like the time I spawned on a tiny peninsula with only a bare handful of tiles separating my settlement from the border of the Huns. The beauty here is that even when the enemy is literally at the gates, you have enough flexibility to find an alternative–in this case, several hundred miles away, preferably.

The beauty here is that even when the enemy is literally at the gates, you have enough flexibility to find an alternative…

The map itself also intriguingly shifts in fundamental ways thanks to both seasonal and situational changes in weather. During cold months you have to worry about supplying any units traveling outside your territory, or else that scouting party might not make it back home. It’s also vital to maintain a surplus of food for the winter as many of your food sources will no longer be operational. Heavy rains, flooding, and even blizzards on specific tiles also keep things interesting, as they can see units immobilized for multiple turns, potentially throwing into chaos your carefully planned assault on a rival settlement or, if you’re lucky, delaying that bandit raid on your logging camp.

As the environment changes over the years, so do the people. Two clans might get into a feud and you’ll be forced to pick a side. Another might be caught stealing and you’ll have to decide their punishment. It’s up to you to sort things out–retrain clans, shuffle them around to new locations, placate them with alcohol–before morale drops too low and everyone’s unhappy. This might seem fiddly and a little prescriptive, but it’s rarely as simple as it may sound. Clan Dankward may now hate Clan Waller, but the Dankwards are your best breadmakers and the Wallers your best blockcutters, you can’t just send one of them out to run the sheep pasture. Besides which, the Wallers are afraid of animals and refuse to work in livestock. Working out a solution to these problems often means having to make tough decisions and uneasy compromises.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

None of these clans are fleshed-out characters; they’re just a collection of buffs and debuffs attached to a random name and portrait. But the way their traits and desires are expressed through their abilities and little exchanges goes a long way to make you feel like you’re ruling a loose collection of real people. They’re not people, of course, but they’re your people.

The same cannot be said of the opponents you face, though. You’re always pitted against the same opponents on every map, but to my mind this is acceptable within the bounds of the scenario Shafer chose to depict. Ins tead, the more significant problem here is the lack of interaction with those AI opponents. To begin with, they don’t particularly care about you–that’s how small and insignificant you are in your initial nomadic phase. As you grow they start to take notice, but it’s rarely more than a raised eyebrow here and there. Occasionally a dialogue box pops up and you can give a gift or rudely refuse one, and that’s pretty much it until you’re at war or you form an alliance. Essentially, you’re either utterly indifferent to the AI, or you’re their best friend or worst enemy, with barely any negotiating in between.

Indeed, it feels like the late game in general is underdeveloped. The absence of compelling diplomacy with the AI factions plays a huge part here, as for much of the game it’s perfectly possible to adopt an isolationist strategy and focus on the more economically focused victory. Pursuing the military route extends your interactions with the AI to throwing your stacked military units at theirs until you occupy their settlements and structures. Combat will be familiar to anyone who’s played Civ IV and it gets the job done in a similarly efficient, if tactically unspectacular, fashion.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Even trade is handled in a curiously neutral manner, having you buy and sell goods through an anonymous caravan rather than through any interaction with the AI factions. Worse still, the concept of religion is relegated to a checkbox that has an unclear effect on an AI faction’s disposition toward you. Shafer has admitted that the diplomacy features are still in their infancy and he has plans to continue to work on them post-launch. That’s an encouraging sign, and one we hope also applies to these other areas, because the late game in its current form is desperately undernourished.

That makes At The Gates difficult to wholeheartedly recommend. What’s there right now is undeniably good; however, what’s missing makes you yearn for how good it could yet be. It’s a fresh, invigorating, more personal take on the grand strategy game. But at the same time, it’s lacking in a few areas, and they really do hold it back from greatness. Jon Shafer has found that fertile new ground on which to settle. He just needs to give it a few seasons to grow.

Source: GameSpot Reviews]]>

Deck-building RPG SteamWorld Quest headlines new Switch indie games

Hand-drawn fantasy/steampunk world coming to Switch first in 2019

Continue reading…

Source: Polygon]]>

Raiden Trad (Super Nintendo) Grade: B-

Dead or Alive 6’s wokeness looks like marketing voodoo

Fighting game clings to raunchy, sexualized characters

Continue reading…

Source: Polygon]]>

Resident Evil 2 Review – RE-vived Nightmares

Reliving familiar frights can often make for a less-than-exciting horror experience. But with the remake of Resident Evil 2, Capcom shows respect for the original while also going to great lengths to give the macabre atmosphere and tense gameplay a noticeable upgrade. In doing so, this revamp of the classic survival horror game shows that the series can still offer a terrifying experience like no other.

You once again play as either Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield. A viral outbreak has unleashed hordes of zombies and other grotesque monsters upon Raccoon City, leading to a series of dangerous and nightmare-inducing encounters for the two characters. While both protagonists’ storylines have similar plots and take place in the same locations, there are different supporting characters and unique challenges in each that set the two playthroughs apart.

In traditional Resident Evil fashion, you’re tasked with surviving through the night and overcoming the nightmarish creatures and devious puzzles found throughout the infested streets of the city, the tight, dimly lit halls of the Police Station, and in the subterranean passages below. RE2 is a great mix of the understated survivalist approach from the original games and the tactile, reflex-oriented gameplay from more recent entries. It’s very much a game about escalation; as your resources dwindle and the monsters become fearsome and more elaborate, the pressure is always mounting as the story progresses, and each moment feels just a bit more desperate than the last. Even the smallest of victories can feel like major wins in RE2, and you’ll often find yourself onto the next struggle before you know it.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

While those who played the original game will enter with an idea of what’s to come, the remake does a lot to refresh certain encounters and locations. Though many locales and their layouts are similar–save for the addition of a brand-new area and a new monster to deal with–the events therein are new. Jump scares don’t trigger when you expect them to, or a room that once spelled certain doom in your head is now a safe haven–but then the question arises: if this room is safe, which room is the real dangerous one?

Early Resident Evil games have a reputation for being melodramatic, often unintentionally, but the RE2 remake a more serious tone that makes for a more evocative story. While there is still the undercurrent of the hokey tone from the classics, with the characters cutting the tension with humor when appropriate, the remake’s narrative is far more convincing, propped up by some impressive writing and strong performances that help convey urgency and despair. This is especially evident during the more quiet moments, when the protagonists will try to psych themselves up for what’s to come. Even minor characters are given additional substance in the remake, with poignant moments given to the doomed police lieutenant Marvin Branagh and gun shop owner Robert Kendo.

Both Claire and Leon have two different versions of the campaign, and after finishing the first run for one, you’ll be prompted to start a follow-up with the other. Called Second Scenarios, they allow you to see the larger story from a different perspective. Both scenarios are totally isolated from another, and choices therein won’t impact the other, but what makes these second runs worthwhile are the different encounters and sub-plots that don’t occur in the first. It’s a very interesting way to experience the narrative, and with four versions of the campaigns between the two leads–with the first two averaging 12-15 hours–you constantly uncover new details and events that weren’t present in the previous playthroughs.

Resident Evil 2’s more serious tone is further enhanced by the renewed, fantastically atmospheric presentation, which gives familiar details from the classic game more of a pronounced look and feel. Moving away from the static camera angles of the original, everything has been redesigned with over-the-shoulder gameplay in mind, giving more of a palpable and invasive sense of dread when exploring. This is heightened even more by the impeccable audio and visual design of the game, creating an eerie, isolating vibe throughout. In a number of cases, you’ll only have the illumination of your flashlight as you walk the dark hallways of the bloody and ruined police station, with the ambient rain and distant monster sounds ramping up the tension. You rarely feel safe in RE2, even when you actually are.

The remake’s impressive level of detail is consistently noticeable, but especially so during gorey moments. These gruesome encounters channel the same macabre and staccato approach from the classics, but are now honed through the visual luster of modern rendering and animation. As the zombies are the one constant threat throughout, you quickly become accustomed to seeing flesh chip away as you fire off pistol shots, along with watching the undead torn in half by well-placed shotgun blasts. Though RE2 easily proves to be the goriest game of the series, it never comes off as excessive, and the grizzly details all serve to highlight the grim circumstances of the desperate situation.

Resident Evil 2’s more serious tone is further enhanced by the renewed, fantastically atmospheric presentation…

At the beginning, your meager selection of weapons doesn’t seem like a match for the game’s most intimidating horrors, but there are means available that can give you the upper hand in a lopsided fight. In addition to dismembering enemies with well-aimed shots hindering zombies’ speed and offense, you can barricade certain windows to block ravenous undead from entering from outside. While many of these options are simply a temporary solution to a long-term problem, which can make it seem like they’re not all that worth taking advantage of, they are helpful in a pinch.

While you will no doubt settle into tactics that work well, RE2 throws in some fresh challenges. In one of the game’s more tense encounters, you cross paths with the Tyrant, a hulking presence whose footsteps echo throughout the environment. Though it was a serious foe shown in small doses in the original, this imposing force of nature is now more of a persistent threat that actively stalks you during key periods in the story. Simply ducking into another room isn’t enough, as it’ll quickly follow you in to keep the chase going–similar to the RE3’s Nemesis in that regard. If you manage to create enough distance and it loses line of sight, it’ll disengage, but will remain lurking throughout the halls. With this dynamic, the Tyrant also makes the common foes you’ve gotten a handle of become genuine threats once again. As you find yourself trying to stay focused on the stalking figure, it’s all too easy to round a corner and run into a group of zombies.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Though the Tyrant offers a nerve-wracking surprise during some of these key moments, which makes the feeling of getting the best of it all the more satisfying, there are other times when it can disrupt Resident Evil 2’s pacing. This is especially frustrating when you’re simply trying to acquire an item or solve a puzzle in a room that the Tyrant and zombies frequent. What should be tense encounters can sometimes become annoying exercises in trying to lure it away, and in some cases it comes off like you’re taking advantage of the Tyrant’s rather limited AI to do just that. The Tyrant can overstay its welcome, but in most cases, its presence is a constant reminder of the looming threat throughout the game.

While RE2 often keeps things serious, it’s not all doom and gloom. In addition to occasional references that break the tension, there’s also a suite of unlockable content available to the delight of RE fans, including the classic RE2 outfits for both Leon and Claire. After completing the campaign for both characters, you’ll unlock a set of bonus modes starring fan-favorites Hunk and Tofu, the later of which is a sentient knife-wielding block of coagulated soy. Both of these extra modes take you on timed gauntlets battling through many intense encounters, with Tofu’s mode being the most difficult scenario in the entire game. They also allow for a chance to cut loose against hordes of monsters without the worry of the larger survival-horror mechanics during the main game.

Resident Evil 2 is not only a stellar remake of the original, but it’s also simply a strong horror game that delivers anxiety-inducing and grotesque situations, topping some of the series’ finest entries. But above all, the remake is an impressive game for the fact that it goes all-in on the pure survival horror experience, confidently embracing its horrifying tone and rarely letting up until the story’s conclusion. Though Resident Evil 2 has its roots firmly in the past, it reworks the familiar horrors into something that feels brand new and all its own.

Source: GameSpot Reviews]]>