Condemn O.R. Condone – Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (PC)

Despite the fact that Turok definitely doesn’t gel with the standards of first-person shooters today, it nonetheless serves as a great nostalgia trip with retro gameplay that is delightfully old-school. Just getting dropped into a foreboding area without being given any context and having to figure things out on your own is an experience that simply doesn’t exist in gaming today, and exploring the game’s expansive levels while coming into contact with hoards of increasingly viscous beasts is always a pleasure. If you want a good reason to take a trip back to the challenging 90’s FPS era, look no further than Night Dive Studios’ Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.

Read my full review of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter at Attack of the Fanboy by clicking right here.

Condemn O.R. Condone – Guns Up! (PlayStation 4)

Guns Up! up does the free-to-play model right and offers an engaging and rewarding side-scrolling strategy experience for PlayStation 4. Crafting and gradually expanding your perfect base to hold off your enemies is very addicting, and bulking up your troops to take on tougher and tougher opponents is equally entertaining. While the base and troop progression gets grindy in the latter half and some additional maps and modes would be nice, I’ve been playing for many hours and am still having fun with what the game offers.

Read my full review of Guns Up! at Attack of the Fanboy by clicking right here.

RESPECTABLE

Condemn O.R. Condone – Tom Clancy’s EndWar Online Beta (PC)

Real Time Strategy games may not exactly be the talk of the town anymore, but I nonetheless anticipate when an RTS of note is on the horizon. Tom Clancy’s EndWar Online has been in development for a while now and has had some closed alpha testing in the past, but now the game is opening up for more people to experience. I have to say, while it certainly isn’t a revolutionary experience, EndWar Online executes the RTS formula very well and kept me engaged in its beta for many hours and likely will for many more.

The game has a pretty simple premise, as the world has essentially gone to hell in a hand basket and all parts of the world are battling each other in World War 3. The war goes on for so long that eventually everyone runs out of supplies, though that doesn’t mean the war is over and the fighting continues as each faction needs a general to boost morale and turn the tide of the war. That’s where you come in, as you choose to lead one of 3 factions as you aim to rebuild your HQ and reclaim all of your areas lost land and win that war!

EndWar Online eases you into its mechanics very gradually, as you start off with very basic levels where you learn to deploy your units like tanks, gunships, infantry and so on. You will have a set amount of each type of unit to deploy per match, and each unit comes with a varying recharge rate. Your objectives are typically pretty simple, as you and your opponent have a base and it’s your goal to destroy the enemy base before they destroy your base. Your units will act on their own once you have chosen their paths and deployed them into battle, though you do have control in utilizing their rechargeable special abilities that speed them up or make them cause more damage. Each stage comes with 3 secondary objectives that will grant you a star each, resulting in you getting bigger rewards upon completion of the battle. Veteran and Elite difficulties can be unlocked further down the road as you increase your level for those looking for more of a challenge than the initial difficulty offers, while also increasing your level completion rewards even further.

There are 3 main forms of currency that you’ll gain by completing battles that all have specific uses throughout the various mechanics of the game; and they are energy, fame and gold. Energy is the most common and is used to do things like level unit zones to increase their overall HP, increase the stats of your commanders to make them stronger and grant them additional abilities. Fame is used solely to enlist new commanders into your army, which grants you units with different abilities compared to the ones you start off with. For example: your initial tank commander may start with the focus fire ability to do bigger damage, though you can recruit a different tank commander that instead starts with the Force Field to boost defense. Gold is less abundant and is most helpful in speeding up the process of expanding your zones, and if you get impatient and are out of gold you can spend real money to remedy that.

Yes, seeing as the game is free-to-play it does have in-game transactions that are constantly letting you know of their presence. You can spend a chunk of money to get a ton of gold and new commanders to make things easier for you, and even if you don’t the game will always keep a “friendly” reminder that you can on the side of the screen. The incessant offers to spend real money can become annoying, but luckily I never got to the point where I felt they were necessary. If you know what you’re doing and play your cards right you will have all of the in-game resources you need to steadily level up your army and complete the dozens of courses on offer without forking over a single real-life penny.

Your individual units alone have plenty of customization options for you to tinker around with, as you can equip them with different ammo, armor, attack systems and defense systems. The game thankfully streamlines the constant unlocks by letting you know when you have gear that can be used to improve one of your commanders, which keeps the customization from getting too convoluted and overwhelming. Apart from leveling your commanders through deploying them and completing stages with them, you can also increase their rank which will allow you to deploy more units in battle while also greatly improving their HP.

Tom Clancy's EndWar Online Review

Graphically the game isn’t all that impressive, as it has a very basic setup with level designs and textures that are all pretty plain. You’re never gonna come across a course that drops your jaw or really wows you with its cleverness, which is a shame in some respects considering how good some other games in this genre look. However, I find that more forgivable in a web-based, arcadey game like this as its silly dialogue and graphics are all part of its charm. The game definitely isn’t trying to cram in some deep or complex story around its easily-digestible levels, and the developers took the right route by keeping the look and feel playful.

EndWar Online also has a multi-player component that currently offers Fortress mode and War Game mode, which are asynchronous and synchronous, respectively. In Fortress mode you will be selecting your troops and battling against a real-life loadout of your opponents that is controlled by AI. War Game is the more standard affair, as you are taking on your opponent in real-time and these matches tend to be much more bombastic and intense. It’s all about who can click the button first to get the troops rolling out to land the first hits or capture specific points on the map to gain stat boosts, and it’s usually all about brute force in my experience of these matches. Nothing too flashy about these modes as it’s literally the same exact experience you would be getting by playing the single-player, but it’s still fun to take on other people from around the world. More modes are gradually being added in both single and multi-player, but the aforementioned modes were all I had access to as of this review.

I can’t say I was expecting a whole lot from this beta, but Tom Clancy’s EndWar Online left me pleasantly surprised. It’s RTS formula is pretty standard as far as the genre goes, but it does what it does well enough and offers so much content that it’s easy to overlook. Managing your own army in quick and action-packed battles is always a blast, and there’s enough customization packed in for your to create your own strategies for completing the levels. If you’re into this genre or are at all curious to giving the beta a shot, then Tom Clancy’s EndWar Online is a safe bet for you. With more development time and refinement this game will only get better, but even at its current state it’s a blast.

RESPECTABLE

The Game Awards 2015 Summary & Review – Good Games, Good Music, Good Times!

So the Game Awards came back for a second round this year with The Game Awards 2015 after what I though was a pretty solid debut last year, and overall I would say it was another very solid showing. Geoff Keighley was once again great presenting many of the awards and we *did* get to see a lot of great new games/footage as well as take up some great discounts on games. It all felt a lot like a big thank you to all the gamers out there around the world and I really enjoyed that.

The highlight of the evening for me was the tribute to Satoru Iwata, where they showed a brief montage of pictures of him before bringing out Reggie Fils-Aime to give a moving speech followed by an emotional performance from Ben Harper. I couldn’t find a video including the performance from Harper, but I’ve linked the rest of the tribute directly below. RIP, Satoru Iwata.

A heck of a lot of great announcements were made, so below you can find my quick thoughts of the entire thing.

The Announcements

What was perhaps the biggest news of the night was that Double Fine revealed that they are crowdfunding Psychonauts 2 for release in 2018. Interestingly enough, the crowdfunding is being done through a new site called Fig. It operates very similarly to other crowd-funding sites, but the catch is when you donate you are also investing in the game and will thus make money off the game once it releases relative to how much it sells and much you invested. Pretty cool.

We already knew about Far Cry Primal, but the show gave us a new gameplay trailer that really showcased the game’s visceral and brutal setting. It looks like they are taking the best parts of Far Cry 4 and making an entire game based solely around those parts, and I am 100% down for that!

Remember The Elder Scrolls Online? No? Me neither! However, Bethesda is pulling a stunt with the game that is sure to get a lot of people to check the game out from now until early January, as they revealed that playing the game during that time will make you eligible for a chance to win $1,000,000. No joke! All you have to do is fill out a form on the game’s website and have an active account.

The folks at Naughty Dog are hard at work on the new Uncharted game, but that didn’t stop them from releasing a new clip of footage that reveals a new character in the game named Nadine Ross. Drake tries to play it cool, but quickly ends up getting his butt kicked a little in what was a gorgeous looking cinematic. Drake really has aged!

It wouldn’t be a gaming event without learning that Telltale Games is taking on yet another major license and turning it into an episodic adventure, but this reveal is one of the biggest yet. Telltale is taking on none other than BATMAN in a new game that is slated for release next year.

There were rumors that the big man himself, Shaq, would be making an appearance at the show and the rumors were true. Shaq announced a new eSports league as well as the winner for best eSports team, but the real news was that the classic Shaq Fu from 1994 is being remastered in Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn.

Quantum Break also made an appearance, getting yet another cinematic trailer to sink your teeth into. Hard to judge a whole lot from a cinematic trailer, but I’m still really looking forward to Remedy’s follow-up to the fantastic Alan Wake.

Oculus’ Palmer Lucky came out being his naturally goofy self, though his big reveal was that Rock band VR is coming to Oculus Rift next year. Seems kinda cool, but at the end of the daythe game still plays just like Rock Band always did, just now you can turn your head and see people around you. Next!

I had posted recently that Shadow Complex Remastered had been leaked for PC, and that turned out to be true. However, what I did not hear is that they are releasing the game for FREE throughout the holiday season! Also, the game *will* be making its way to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One owners, too.

A brief alpha gameplay trailer was also revealed for Star Citizen, which looked pretty cool but nothing to really go crazy about.

You thought the Telltale Games news was over, didn’t you? Nope! It was also revealed that a spin-off series called The Walking Dead: Michonne. It’s Telltale, it’s their Walking Dead series, so of course it looks pretty good.

Another rumor that ended up being true was that Rocket League is coming to Xbox One. I already said this recently but I’ll say it again: this is awesome. Rocket League was the surprise hit of the year and I believe that as many people as possible should be able to play it.

Definitely some great announcements to witness, but now it’s time to see who were the big winners of the evening for gaming. Scroll down for a complete list of games/devs/people who went home with awards (marked in bold):

The Winners

Game of the Year

  • Bloodborne
  • Fallout 4
  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
  • Super Mario Maker
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Developer of the Year

  • Bethesda Game Studios
  • CD Projekt Red
  • From Software
  • Kojima Productions
  • Nintendo

Best Shooter

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
  • Destiny: The Taken King
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Splatoon
  • Star Wars Battlefront

Best Action-Adventure Game

  • Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider

Best RPG

  • Bloodborne
  • Fallout 4
  • Pillars of Eternity
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • Undertale

Best Fighting Game

  • Guilty Gear Xrd Sign
  • Mortal Kombat X
  • Rise of Incarnates
  • Rising Thunder

Best Sports/Racing Game

  • FIFA 16
  • Forza Motorsport 6
  • NBA 2K16
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 2016
  • Rocket League

Best Multiplayer

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
  • Destiny: The Taken King
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Rocket League
  • Splatoon

Best Indie Game

  • Axiom Verge (Tom Happ)
  • Her Story (Sam Barlow)
  • Ori and the Blind Forest (Moon Studios/Microsoft Studios)
  • Rocket League (Psyonix)
  • Undertale (tobyfox)

Best Family Game

  • Disney Infinity 3.0
  • Lego Dimensions
  • Skylanders SuperChargers
  • Splatoon
  • Super Mario Maker

Best Mobile or Handheld Game

  • Downwell (Moppin/Devolver Digital)
  • Fallout Shelter (Bethesda)
  • Lara Croft Go (Square Enix)
  • Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (Capcom)
  • Pac-Man 256 (Hipster Whale/Bandai Namco)

Best Narrative

  • Her Story
  • Life is Strange
  • Tales From the Borderlands
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • Until Dawn

Best Art Direction

  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Bloodborne
  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Best Score or Soundtrack

  • Fallout 4 (Inon Zur)
  • Halo 5: Guardians (Kazuma Jinnouchi)
  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain (Justin Burnett, Ludvig Forssell, Daniel James)
  • Ori and the Blind Forest (Gareth Coker)
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Marcin Przybylowicz, Mikolai Stroinski)

Best Performance

  • Ashly Burch – Chloe Price (Life is Strange)
  • Doug Cockle – Geralt (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt)
  • Mark Hamill – The Joker (Batman: Arkham Knight)
  • Camilla Luddington – Lara Croft (Rise of the Tomb Raider)
  • Viva Seifert (Her Story)

Games for Change

  • Cibele (Nina Freeman)
  • Her Story (Sam Barlow)
  • Life is Strange (Dontnod Entertainment)
  • Sunset (Tale of Tales)
  • Undertale (tobyfox)

Industry Icon Award – Westwood Studios co-founders Brett Sperry and Louis Castle

Fan Voting

Most Anticipated Game

  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Quantum Break
  • The Last Guardian
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Best Fan Creation

  • GTA 5 – Targets (Hoodoo Operator)
  • Real GTA (Corridor Digital)
  • Portal Stories: Mel (Prism Studios)
  • Super Mario Maker e-Reader Levels (Baddboy78/theycallmeshaky)
  • Twitch Plays Dark Souls (Twitch Community)

Trending Gamer

  • Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles
  • Greg Miller
  • Markiplier
  • PewDiePie
  • Total Biscuit

eSports

Game of the Year

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
  • Dota 2
  • Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
  • League of Legends

Player of the Year

  • Peter “ppd” Dager (Dota 2 – Evil Geniuses)
  • Syed Sumail “Suma1L” Hassan (Dota 2 – Evil Geniuses)
  • Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer (CS:GO – Fnatic)
  • Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok (League of Legends – SK Telecom T1)
  • Kenny “KennyS” Schrub (CS:GO – Team EnVyUs)

Team of the Year

  • Evil Geniuses
  • Fnatic
  • Optic Gaming
  • SK Telecom T1
  • Team SoloMid

That concludes my brief thoughts/coverage of the Game Awards 2015! Again, I was really pleased with the show and felt a lot of great-looking games were announced and a lot of great games ended up winning awards. Of course, this being a judgmental website this article wouldn’t be complete without a judgment, so my judgement for The Game Awards 2015 show is…

CONDONE

Condemn O.R. Condone – Fallout 4 (PlayStation 4)

Fallout 4 is finally upon us, with 2015’s perhaps most anticipated game being the series’ first numbered release since 2008. Bethesda’s massive RPG series has always been all about creating a complex and demented world and basically just throwing the player into it and seeing what happens. The post-apocalyptic settings always feel unique to the series, and even though the overall gameplay mechanics are something that Bethesda relies on regularly it’s always just enough to suck people back in. Fallout 4 largely relies on the same formula that Bethesda has been using for years, but there are just enough improvements imbued into what is my new favorite Bethesda RPG setting to put a very big smile on my face.

While the plot of Fallout 4 follows a similar road of Fallout 3 in that you are searching for a missing family member (this time your son instead of your father), the game is notable for showing life briefly *before* the nuke hit. You and your wife are a young couple who have a newborn son and are living a pretty comfortable life in the suburbs with a weird, floating butler robot named Codsworth. These moments of ease are very short-lived, however, as it isn’t too long after the game has started that you suddenly hear of the nuke’s impending detonation. You and your wife take your son and charge for the Vault and make it inside just in the nick of time. However, you are put into a cryogenic sleep for over 200 years, and during that time your wife was killed and your son was kidnapped. How pleasant!

It’s after this that you are thrown into the viscous, post-apocalyptic world that Bethesda are so masterful at creating. This time the game is set in Massachusetts, which is a big plus for me considering it’s my home state. You go through town’s like Boston, Lexington and Concord where everything has been decimated and overrun with Super Mutants, Raiders and all matter of savage animals and Synths. There are many big landmarks that you’ll come across along the way that are fantastic to behold, such as the game’s stronghold (Diamond City) being Fenway Park, the State House, the Freedom Trail and a lot more that are perfectly incorporated into the game’s gritty world. There’s just something even more visceral about a game’s setting when you know it’s based on an area you’re familiar with, and Bethesda did a fantastic job of bringing Massachusetts to post-apocalyptic life (or death, I guess).

While your main object is to find your son, as is always the case in every Bethesda game you will quickly get side-tracked with the overwhelming amount of stuff there is to do in this game. There are several factions that all have their own unique quests, tons of areas to explore and loot and now you can even create your structures! All of the useless crap that you would find in previous games in the series can now be utilized to craft things like furniture, power grids and crafting stations where you can create and customize your weapons, armor and aid items. You’ll want to do this to protect the people in your group, as they’ll occasionally have to deal with enemies and the better your stronghold the better their chances of survival. The crafting system isn’t perfect, however, as you only have your first-person viewpoint to place objects. This becomes very awkward when you’re trying to place something precisely, and I really think that an overhead perspective (or at least the option to switch to one) would have improved this part of the game greatly.

Combat in Fallout 4 works largely the same as it did in the past, as you attack enemies in either a 1st or 3rd-person perspective with guns and melee weapons. However, the combat has been improved this time around, as everything feels more accurate and more on par with how many big-name first-person shooters control today. You also have the ability to get more strategic with V.A.T.S. which returns to allow you to zero-in on specific enemy body parts and then dish out the damage in a cinematic barrage of offense. The big change for V.A.T.S. is that it no longer freezes time while you are choosing your attack, as it instead puts the action in slow-motion. You’ll still have time to plan you attack accordingly, but wait too long and the enemy will get some attacks in before you execute. I actually liked this change as it kept the tension of some of the more intense shootouts (of which there are many) going strong.

Even though you’ll find all manner of crazy weaponry to defend yourself throughout your playthrough, you can get the extra power if needed by hopping into the beloved Power Armor featured on the cover. Doing this makes you a one-man army, with far greater offensive and defensive stats then you would regularly have. What keeps this being a game-breaking machine is the fact that it runs on fusion cores, which there are a limited amount of in the game. As a result, you need to plan carefully when you will use it, as fusion cores don’t last long at all. It’s basically like the armor that Tony Stark builds in the cave in the first Iron Man movie, as it’s an absolute beast but has a limited amount of time to wreak havoc before it’s useless.

Fallout 4 FEATURE REVIEW

This wouldn’t be a Bethesda RPG without some form of progression system, and Fallout 4 has changed that process significantly with the perk system. You now have a giant grid of perks that you can put points towards by gaining experience and leveling up, and if you keep on playing you can eventually acquire every single one. These perks do things like make you stronger or more persuasive in conversations, though they eventually funnel down to more specific perks like doing more damage with non-automatic pistols. You have complete freedom with the system and due to the fact that it’s so open and visual it allows you to customize your character with more control than ever before.

Even though Bethesda games are known for being incredibly buggy at launch, in my testing of the PlayStation 4 version I have experienced only very minor bugs and nothing to the extreme of the game freezing or crashing. The biggest technical shortcoming is one that many were bringing up even before the game launched, and that’s the game’s graphics engine. While this is undoubtedly the best looking game Bethesda has ever done, some of the character models are down-right atrocious for this day and age, and the animations and lip-syncing can be pretty wonky. Still, this is made up for thanks to the game’s fantastic design and voice acting of all of the game’s various inhabitants that is without question the best we’ve seen in a Bethesda game yet. Even the main character is voice acted for the very first time, which I thought was a huge improvement and adds a lot more emotional depth to the core experience.

Character interactions themselves have been refined and simplified compared to previous games, with you getting a handful of options to respond to the person you’re talking to and only a vague idea of what you’re actually going to respond with. You’re options typically range from seeking out more information on what the person just said, agreeing with them, disagreeing with them or replying with sarcasm. Some have complained that this has reduced the amount of really interesting conversations you can have with characters, but ultimately I felt it kept the conversations moving without babbling too much. Plus you can witness some pretty hilarious dialogue whenever you choose the sarcastic response. Your choices that you make in conversations are pretty important, as well, as you have the power to potentially avoid combat situations or get more information out of a person, especially if you max out your charisma stat early.

It isn’t ground-breaking, but Fallout 4 is nonetheless an incredible experience that is rivaled by few others in the industry. The post-apocalyptic setting of Massachusetts is consistently jaw-dropping, and the game’s plot deals with some pretty thought-provoking stuff regarding the humanity of synths and the best best interests for mankind going forward. It’s an incredibly dense world with plenty of content to tackle, with all of it feeling like an integral part to the game’s setting and lore. It’s a very scary world to live in and the various factions that are at odds with each other all have compelling arguments for their particular beliefs that make it hard to entirely side with one of them. Plus there’s the fact that the game is consistently a blast to play, with so many different mechanics for you to tinker around with and tweak to your liking. Simply put, Fallout 4 is a tremendous game that should not be missed by anyone with the means to play it.

CONDONE

Condemn O.R. Condone – Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (PlayStation 4)

After the technical disaster that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, the series as a whole needed the next game in the series to really step up big. After Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag shook up the series’ formula by adding naval combat, Unity was a pretty big step back as it reverted to what the series was before. Not only that, but the game launched as a bug-riddled mess and remained that way for a long time. So, here we are a year later from that and we have yet another Assassin’s Creed game. While it’s definitely an improvement over Unity from a technical standpoint, we’ve only gotten marginal improvements in both story and gameplay.

The story of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate takes place this time in the gorgeous setting of Victorian London as an initiate is tasked with exploring the narrative of twin sibling protagonists Jacob and Evie Frye. It’s the height of the Industrial Revolution and class inequality is running rampant, resulting in Templars running the show and regular citizens struggling and even children being forced into labor. Jacob and Evie both want something different out of London, as Jacob is trying to create his own army called the Rooks to take on the Templar-led Blighters and free London, while Evie is looking for a piece of Eden which has potentially incredible power.

The plot this time around is definitely more refined and interesting than what we got last time with Unity, as Syndicate gives us two protagonists that are loyal to each other but also at odds. The fact that they are both fighting for two different things results in some pretty interesting conflict, and both characters are well-written and well-voice acted to convey the conflict solidly. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the overall package ends up being very predictable, with the ending of the game actually playing out VERY similarly to the ending of Unity. More needs to be done with this series’ plot creation, as no matter how well you execute something it’s derailed by the fact that it’s all very familiar.

Luckily the gameplay is a solid step up over what was offered previously, as the combat itself is much more fluid and enjoyable. It’s now more along the lines of something you would find in Rocksteady’s Arkham series, though obviously not quite as smooth or responsive. You are constantly being swarmed by enemies and while you’re mashing away you need to be ready to hit the right button to dodge an incoming attack or break an enemy’s defense. Your weapons to take the baddies down are pretty standard for the series, with knives, canes, guns and gauntlets being at your disposal. The game even allows you to switch between Jacob and Evie regularly, which does shake up the gameplay a bit as Jacob is more combat-tuned and Evie is more stealth-tuned.

Where Syndicate tries to twist the gameplay the most is in the traversal department. Where the city of London is the biggest area ever in an Assassin’s Creed game it would take a very long time to get around normally, so now you have the option to hop on a horse carriage to speed things up. Navigation isn’t the only thing you do with horse carriages, as they also result in battles with enemies where you have to try and ram each other off the road or even hop onto the roof of the enemy’s carriage to throw them out. Riding around in horse carriages is actually a lot of fun to do, even if the series’ typically wonky controls do cause some problems every now and then. A rope launcher has also been added to the game, which allows you to shoot a rope to any surface and then climb/zip along at a much quicker rate. I was hugely thankful that this was added to the game, as the traditional climbing from the bottom to a top of a building is getting old fast and anything that can speed up the process is much appreciated.

Your group’s main head quarters also serves as transportation, as you get a train early on that regularly zips around the city that you can always quick travel to. Inside the train you’ll find many of the game’s main characters to chat with or to embark on new main/side quests. Pretty much every aspect of the game can be accessed from this train, which makes doing things like restocking medicine, throwing knives, etc. much more convenient. I always love when a game gives you your own home base, and the fact that this one is a freakin’ train that skims around the city is a really cool and well-executed idea.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

While the city of London is home to a standard-length story for the series, there is once again a ton of side content to waste time in if you so desire. It is made up of seven boroughs that each have their own side-quests to take on, collectibles to find and, of course, viewpoints to synchronize. While a lot of the side content is typically filler, there’s actually a few parts that are a lot of fun to do. One such part is the Charles Dickens side quests, which task you with travelling with the famous author to do things like investigate a haunted house. These quests have a lot of mystery to them and give a different kind of vibe that the series rarely ever taps into. For the most part, though, you’ll regularly be asked to do repetitive tasks like rescue child laborers, kill all Blighters in their territory and so on.

As you slowly make your way through all of the game’s content you will level up your characters by upgrading their moves, weapons, armor and item capacity. As mentioned previously, each character has certain moves that only they can learn, but for the most part they both have access to the same skill trees. It all works very similarly to how it did in Unity, though it works a little better this time around. The game offers a lot of freedom to customize each of your characters however you see fit, which is always welcomed. Focusing your skill points in certain areas for each character is recommended, however, so you can really create two different styles of characters to play around with.

It also doesn’t hurt that the city you’re going through is absolutely gorgeous, with both the graphics and design being top-notch. The game is swarming with beautiful buildings with more floors and higher peaks than before, and the lighting effects in particular are jaw-dropping. I also love how the game’s areas are designed to allow you to complete a mission in several ways. While a lot of the time you can proceed directly to your target to assassinate them, you will also regularly have the option to seek someone out to give you a key for an easier way in or even get a support crew to back you up. It creates a lot of possibilities for each mission and prevents things from feeling too linear.

At the end of the day Syndicate definitely gets the job done in getting the series back on the right track after Unity dropped the ball out of the gate. It’s much a more fine-tuned experience from a gameplay standpoint and the characters we’re controlling this time around are more interesting than what we’ve gotten in recent installments. However, as well-oiled of a machine it is it doesn’t change the fact that if you’ve been keeping up with the series then this one isn’t going to do much to wow you. Still, regardless of the series’ flaws becoming more and more prominent with each passing year Syndicate will more than likely leave the average fan coming out of the game feeling satisfied.

RESPECTABLE

Condemn O.R. Condone – Blood Bowl 2 (PlayStation 4)

If you ask the average gamer what they think of today’s selection of sports games, you’ll usually end up getting roughly the same answers. Most would agree that they have become little more than cash grabs for their respective publishers, as they put in as little effort as humanly possible each year while knowing they’ll make millions regardless of quality. It’s rare that we get sports games of any fashion that really go for something new, and even though we’re dealing with a sequel here it doesn’t change the fact that Blood Bowl 2 is once again a breath of fresh air.

For the uninitiated, the idea of Blood Bowl 2 is a knock off of American football but has a lot of quirks that make it its own beast. You have 11 players on each side of the ball doing their best to stop the other team from carrying the ball in to each respective team’s end zone. However, that is truly where all similarities end, as human teams will be facing off against orcs, dwarves, elves and more brutal creatures that turn the already physical sport into a bloody arena.

The biggest thing that makes this series mechanically different from Madden and other games of that kind is the fact that it’s a turn-based strategy game. Rather than having each teams acting at the same time on offense and defense, control will switches between teams where the player will have each member of his team move around the field and then roll the dice to attack an opponent. While the chances of success are random in nature due to the fact that we’re dealing with dice, there are things that you can do to increase your chances of landing attacks rather than being attacked. Having a player with higher stats take on the opposition while also parking teammates on adjacent tiles to give you stat boosts will typically tip the scales in your favor, though success still isn’t 100% guaranteed.

More in-depth mechanics are gradually incorporated into the gameplay as players will have abilities that will protect them from certain attacks. For example: if you have a player with higher stats go and attack someone with lower stats but has the block ability, the player being attacked can reduce the damage from being knocked down to simply being pushed back. There’s a lot of strategy that goes into each and every turn, and the randomness of the dice makes even the most confident of attacks have tension. To make the punishment of your failures even more brutal, simply failing an attack or falling down while it is your turn will result in a turnover and give the other team the ball even if you had just begun your turn.

While the randomness of the mechanics do work well a lot of the time, there are also instances where it can get very annoying. The biggest offender in this area is the chance percentage that a player has for successfully picking up a loose ball. When the game starts or you have successfully attacked the person with the ball, the ball will go flying and land on a new spot on the field. If you play your cards right you can get yourself in a position where you have your teammates protecting you while you go to scoop up the ball and make a dash for the end zone. However, most of the time your odds of picking up the ball are around 2 in 3, and those odds seemed lower in my experience as I found myself and the enemy team dropping the ball more often than not. This would be annoying on its own, but considering that each dropped ball results in a turnover makes it infuriating.

Still, these 16 turn games have the tendency to be perfectly matched and never result in blowouts. Blood Bowl 2 elects to have each touchdown be worth one point rather than the NFL’s 6 points, and there’s no such thing as going for an extra point, either. The aforementioned brutality of the mechanics adds a lot of twists into each match that can have some surprising results on the momentum of the game. For example: a successful attack has a chance to stun a player for one turn, knock them out for the entire match or even KILL them! Oh, and going out of bounds in regfular Football resulting in the play ending? Ha, not here! In Blood Bowl 2 if you push someone out of bounds they will be viciously stomped on and knocked out by the attendees. It sounds absolutely diabolical on the surface, but the game’s charming visual design and wry sense of humor make it funny more than anything else.

Speaking of sense of humor, Blood Bowl 2 has one of the best due of commentators I have ever experienced in a game of this kind. Jim Johnson the Vampire and Bob Bifford the Ogre ex-star player of Blood Bowl are the first to greet us as we boot up the game, and they also commentate each and everyone one of the game’s matches. Their commentary is consistently hilarious as Bob Bifford will regularly voice his wishes for more brutality to occur, while Bob Bifford will be making some dry humor puns that both work so well together. While I would have liked a bit more variety in what they said as they tend to repeat themselves even early on, that doesn’t change the fact that the overall feeling of each match is enhanced greatly by their presence.

Blood Bowl 2 also has a robust multiplayer component, where up to 128 teams can go at each other online. Due to the random nature of the mechanics of the game, many online matches can get really heated as your momentum can be completely snapped in half by a sudden failed attack. All of the injuries that can happen in the main game happen just as frequently online, and finding yourself suddenly down a few players in a close game never fails to be put me on the edge of my seat. This game has the mechanics and quirks to thrive in the online environment, and I can definitely see this one having strong legs in that field.

If you’re looking for a unique take on a beloved sport that will make you feel like you’ve just discovered a sweet new sport, look no further than Blood Bowl 2. The game’s brutal mechanics mixed with its diabolical humor make it a blast to play and really puts it into a crowd of its own. There are some balancing issues with the dice that could use some ironing out to make certain aspects of play less frustrating, but most of the time it’s the random element that makes things consistently exciting. Whether you’re playing online or offline, Blood Bowl 2 consistently offers rewarding turn-based strategy Football gameplay that I’ll be coming back to for a long time.

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