Condemn O.R. Condone – Transformers: Devastation (PlayStation 4)

The Transformers series has been a mixed bag in the gaming world, with games that have been fun to play and fun to make fun of. While the Cybertron games were generally pretty good, last year’s Rise of the Dark Spark marked a new low point for the series and the 3DS version somehow ended up being a tactical RPG. It was definitely time for new blood to take on one of the most beloved series of the last several decades, and who better to make a cheesy, over-the-top action game than PlatinumGames? Nobody, that’s who!

Just as you would expect, this is a G1 Transformers game that is all about lightning-fast action. The mechanics are simultaneously easy to pick up but also difficult to truly master when the going gets tough. You’ve got light and heavy-based combo attacks, ranged attacks and the ability to transform at the end of a combo to deal some big time damage to your foes. Combat is regularly chaotic with hoards of enemies coming from every possible angle to take you down, but if you know what you’re doing then it usually ends up making your opponents look like part of an elaborate juggling act.

It doesn’t stop there either, as PlatinumGames has incorporated some of what made last year’s Bayonetta 2 such a blast to play, with the biggest element being Witch Time. This mechanic allows you to slow down time for a few seconds by executing a dodge just before being hit by an enemy. However, the window that you have to take advantage of this slowed down time is smaller than in Bayonetta, meaning that the frantic and chaotic action doesn’t let up much at all. You’ll regularly also have other Transformers helping you out in battle, and the AI for your allies is actually very good as they’ll take out quite a few baddies for you and won’t ending up endlessly walking into a wall like in many other games of this type. All this to say that there is always lots of things happening on the screen, making this brief 5-hour-ish journey feel like minutes.

You also have the ability to switch between a handful of different transformers, and each one of them has play styles that are unique to them. I used Optimus Prime for the vast majority of the game, but it’s occasionally fun to whip out Bumblebee to move quicker or Grimlock to use his grapple ability. The mechanics are basic enough that you won’t have to figure out how to control each character, but they control differently enough that there’s actual benefit to using all of them in the right situations.

Like in previous games from Platinum you’re usually dealing with a pretty linear campaign, but Devastation does open things up a bit more than the devs usually allow. As you travel through the city to your next objective you’ll have a map with dots leading you towards it, but you usually have the ability veer off the path and go exploring a bit. Exploration in this game certainly isn’t to the extent of an open-world game, but you’ll typically find paths that will get you hidden items that reward you for snooping around a bit. Sometimes you will have to work for these hidden rewards, though, as there are plenty of quick puzzles that’ll have you do things like shoot an object and then race to the reward before it disappears. Nothing spectacular, but in an action game like this it does help to break the game up a bit.

While the action-packed gameplay is the meat of what this game is all about, Platinum did their best to also deliver a decidedly corny and charming story that fits in perfectly with the look and feel of the cartoon. Once again, Megatron is after something very powerful and it is up to the Autobots to try and stop him, and they’ll have to get through his onslaught of evil minions to get to him. As far as cartoon villains go Megatron is better than most as his cause is relatable to a certain extent, though the overall conflict and plot is by no means the highlight of the game. Kids’ll be sure to eat it all up, though.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though, as this game does have its shortcomings. While the gameplay that Devastation offers is pretty simple and straightforward, it does have RPG systems for upgrading weapons and armor with abilities. You’ll find tons of weapons throughout any given mission, and the enhancements that you get from the majority of them are pure crap. To get the most out of what you have found you have to break up the action by going into the Ark, which serves as the game’s hub. You’ll sort through menus that contain all of your many weapons and try to figure out which weapons will synthesize best to give the best stat bonuses, but that process is so tedious and the results so marginal that I ended up mostly ignoring this aspect of the game.

The amount of content that is on disc here is also pretty slight for a $50 game. As I mentioned previously the game is about 5 hours long and although there’s reason to come back to get better scores in each level, that doesn’t change the fact that you can be done with it in a day. The game also offers a challenge mode with 50 challenges that have you do things like defeat all of the enemies on screen, survive as long as you can while fighting enemies or even protect your allies while fending off enemies. You can definitely sink a good amount of time into this mode, but considering you are doing exactly what you were doing in the main game anyway it’s kind of a letdown. After finishing the campaign that is non-stop action, going into challenge mode just feels like a daunting task.

Despite some blemishes Transformers: Devastation is a heck of a lot better than last year’s Rise of the Dark Spark and is worth playing for both Transformers fans and fans of action games, in general. However, I would wait for a price drop first, as 50 bucks is asking a bit much for what you’re ultimately getting here. Devastation is a non-stop action thrill ride that will certainly keep you entranced by its chaotic action for the handful of hours it’ll give you.

RESPECTABLE

 

Condemn O.R. Condone – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain + Metal Gear Online (PlayStation 4)

It all comes down to this. After delivering classic game after classic game in a series that has spanned several decades, Hideo Kojima finds himself in a position where he has released what may very well be the last Metal Gear Solid game. While we already had the ending of the series, chronologically, with Metal Gear Solid 4: The Guns of the Patriots, The Phantom Pain is a different kind of ending. Where 4 was the last game for Solid Snake, 5 is the last game for Big Boss. There are still a lot of things in the Metal Gear universe that haven’t been detailed that 5 tasks itself with telling, and for the most part it gets the jobs done.

For those who played Ground Zeroes last year, The Phantom Pain takes place nine years after the finale of that game left Big Boss in a coma. Upon awakening he learns that the Mother Base he built in Peace Walker has been destroyed, he’s lost an arm and there are currently unknown forces out there that are trying to kill him. Big Boss is able to escape the hospital that was protecting him for all those years from an assassination attempt including a creepy giant engulfed in flames and a floating little kid with a gas mask. Once out of there, it is now Big Boss’ mission to not only rebuild Mother Base with the help of Benedict “Kaz” Miller and Revolver Ocelot, but make it better than ever by completing contracts and recruiting new workers.

The Phantom Pain marks what is perhaps the biggest gameplay shift that the series has ever seen, as instead of linear paths entirely focused on stealth this game drops the player into a huge open world with near limitless options. Each area has several forts filled with baddies and many winding paths for you to take, and you can complete most of your objectives by going in silently, guns blazing or a mixture of both. There are also random weather effects like rain and sandstorms that will allow you sneak around easier though also limiting your own visibility. Missions can also be done during the daytime or nighttime, and your choice of mission time will effect the amount of enemies on guard duty. The Fulton Recovery system also makes a comeback in a big way, as now you can not only ship people back to Mother Base, but you can also ship weapons, vehicles and cargo that can all be used to improve Mother Base further.

While The Phantom Pain gives the player much more freedom to tackle each situation however they want, stealth is still the preferred choice for most situations. If you do go in guns blazing you wont be able to Fulton Recovery enemies that you have the option to knock out, and that will lose you potential recruits to improve Mother Base. However, thanks to the game’s tagging system that lets you scope out an area and mark each visible enemy, you can check out their stats and see if they are worth Fultoning in the first place. If you see a group of dudes up ahead and none of them have any special stats to speak of, just friggin’ open fire if you’re confident that it’s not going to cause any alarms to go off.

However, even if you are going for stealth and you get spotted by an enemy, the game has what is called Reflex Mode that allows you a few seconds in slow motion to take out the enemy before he alerts the others. It’s a great new addition that allows you to avoid slipping into too many alert scenarios without feeling cheap. Still, with the huge arsenal of weapons at Big Boss’ disposal that can be developed through Mother Base you’ll usually have what you need to take on enemies should the occasion arise. Those pesky choppers can be taken down with a well placed rocket, enemy snipers can be picked off by your own well-timed sniper bullet, and the ground crew can be mown down with an array of machine guns, rifles and shotguns. Big Boss has that title for a reason, and the lethal things that he always has at his disposal is a testament to that.

This isn’t to say that the game isn’t challenging, though, as the game’s fantastic enemy AI assures that you won’t deal with any average mission easily. If you run around they will hear you and check out your last known location, and if you leave a dead or unconscious enemy in a visible spot they will see it and tighten up security. They will also learn your mission patterns, as if you tend to go on more night missions they will start wearing night vision goggles and they’ll wear gas masks if you take a fancy to smoke grenades. Thankfully, you can get around this by sending out your Mother Base Combat team on missions to stop their supply of masks, armor and so on. There are always new things being added to the playing field to make things more difficult for you, but if you use your head you’ll find that you always have the means to overcome them.

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Your traversal through the game’s gorgeously designed and vast areas are done through main and side ops missions, which will both give you plenty of content to suck your teeth into. Main missions will usually progress the story, while side ops mostly contain missions that will net you helpful items like weapon blueprints. There is certainly a lot of content here, though some of it occasionally does feel repetitive as some missions feel more like padding than a meaningful excursion. A lot of the time you’re sneaking into an enemy base to rescue a prisoner, kill a certain person or investigate an issue, and while the different level structures do give them a lot of variety they don’t always feel all that fulfilling to accomplish.

This is due largely to the game’s fractured narrative. While many missions will get you some fantastic cinematic cutscenes that really drive the plot forward, there are also plenty of missions that don’t really do much for the plot. In fact, there are large stretches of time where it feels like you aren’t even progressing the plot anymore, making the big moments that pop up infrequently a bit jarring. In a series that prides itself on always delivering cinematic storytelling that is consistently gripping, The Phantom Pain definitely disappoints in this category.

However, this is also due to the fact that Kojima elected to replace much of the cinematic storytelling with cassette tape recordings, allowing you to flesh out the story on your own time while you’re doing other missions. While I know this is Kojima responding to some of the previous game’s haters, this was a big negative for me as the consistently brilliant cinematics (however long they may run for) are what made the other games so good. I don’t want to have the story read to me in the background while I’m doing other things, and even worse I don’t want to sit there and just listen to tapes 20-25 minutes at a time.

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Still, as infrequent as the big cinematic moments in The Phantom Pain may be, there is no mistaking that there are some truly great ones here. The game’s main antagonist Skull Face isn’t the best villain that the series has ever seen, but the scheme he is involved in results in some incredible revelations in the second half of the game. There are a couple of parts towards the end of the game that are equal parts riveting and heartbreaking, rivaling any of the most powerful moments that the series has ever offered before.

Unfortunately, there is also a major plot thread that is left completely unresolved and while I’d usually chock that up to sequel baiting, the information that this segment was either removed or just left unfinished to get the game out sooner leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. This pain is felt all the deeper when you’re already dealing with the the most story-light Metal Gear Solid yet.

Thankfully, the tripod of Big Boss, Ocelot and Miller results in some great character interactions throughout the course of the game that keeps you invested. Where Ocelot is the most level-headed of the three, Miller is constantly a hardass and trusts nobody. This results in many moments where there is constant tension between the game’s protagonists, and I found this to be much more interesting than their conflict with the antagonist. They all have different ideas of what Mother Base should be and how it should be run, but ultimately it’s Big Boss’ call and he makes the final decision whether they like it or not.

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These decisions lead to some friction early on when Big Boss brings back a character named Quiet to Mother Base, as some believe she is a spy while others welcome her. While her near-naked character design and many suggestive camera angles are definitely eye-roll inducing, I would say that Quiet has what is easily the best character arc in the entire game. Bringing her on missions will increase your relationship with her, which makes the many story scenes that she is a part of all the more impactful.

The voice acting is also topnotch, as each character is brought to life perfectly by their respective actor. The biggest actor of note here is Keifer Sutherland, as he is replacing the man who voiced Snake in every other Metal Gear Solid game, David Hayter. Sutherland does a great job of portraying Big Boss, and even though I love David Hayter and definitely missed having him in what may be the final Metal Gear Solid game it’s easier to digest having Sutherland on the spot. I do have to admit, though, that there was more than one time when I was picturing Jack Bauer when he would deliver certain lines, but that probably has more to do with the fact that I’m a nut for the 24 TV show.

The audio is solid all around, in fact, as the game’s music score is fantastic. There are plenty of sweeping orchestral moments that give each scene a suitably epic feel, and plenty of licensed songs that actually came out during the time period of the game are listenable through cassette tapes. It’s always great to go through a tough area while Europe’s “The Final Countdown” is blaring in the background, though I do have to wonder how Big Boss got a hold of the 1999 remaster of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” in the 80’s. As you can see, the man truly remains a mystery.

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Along with utilizing Quiet’s sniping abilities to mark enemies in an area and taking them out when things get rough, you can also bring along other buddies with you during most missions to help you out. You initially just have a horse that allows you to get around much more quickly, but you will eventually recruit a machine called a Walker to take down many enemies head-on and even a dog that will sniff out and kill enemies stealthily. These buddies add a nice new aspect to the gameplay, as there are many times where you might be about to die and your buddy will help you out and save your ass. I can’t tell you how many times I was sneaking up on an enemy only to be spotted before I got to them, but was saved from being killed or the enemy alerting others by a swift and silent sniper bullet from Quiet. These tense moments are a huge rush when you’re a part of them and are easily some of my favorite aspects of the gameplay.

Managing Mother Base returns from Peace Walker, though this time the experience is much more user-friendly. Through utilizing the game’s iDroid you can manage the base’s staff and move them around to different departments like Research & Development, Support, Medical, etc.. Unlike in Peace Walker, when you recruit new workers they are automatically put into the department that suits their abilities, which is a nice way to save a bit of time on your part. Mother Base is actually a living and breathing place that you can explore this time around, with huge multi-story buildings and longer platforms that connect all of the different bases. While there are certainly some interesting things to check out at Mother Base, I do wish that there was a bit more going on there to really make it feel like a major area of the game.

Peace Walker‘s fragmented mission areas are also completely gone in The Phantom Pain, as you now have two humongous open worlds with hundreds of missions within both Afghanistan and Africa. I definitely like this approach a lot better as it gives you a much better sense of the area you are in, as well as eliminating constant loading screens while moving between areas. The Phantom Pain‘s world is the most fluid and sleek one that the series has ever seen, and just traversing through it sometimes is a pleasure all on its own. Where most open world games have huge areas that lack much personality, here you are consistently introduced to incredibly dense and beautifully designed areas that are packed with plants, enemies and wild life for you to interact with.

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Eventually you will build what is called a Forward Operating Base, which is essentially a Mother Base that exists online to generate you some in-game income. You’ll build this base just as you build the core game’s base, though you’ll also equip it with weapons and security devices. The reason for this is that other real-life players can invade your base, and if they reach the center of it they will depart with your staff, materials and money. However, if this intruder is spotted before reaching the core then you’ll get an alert and can deploy to your base to defend it. It’s a pretty cool meta-game that’s always playing in the background while you’re doing other things, but the main bummer is that if you want to own more than one FOB you’ll have to buy coins with real-life money.

However, there is now a completely free traditional multiplayer mode within the game called Metal Gear Online. This mode has just recently become available to the core game, and it features three pretty standard modes that are nevertheless enhanced thanks to The Phantom Pain‘s unique gameplay. Bounty Hunter has you trying to eliminate the enemy team to deplete their ticket count, Cloak and Dagger has you sneak into an enemy base to steal a data disk, and Comm Control has you capture and hold 3 different areas. These are very standard game types, but they feel fresh thanks to The Phantom Pain‘s stealth leanings. You can just kill any enemy like you would in any other shooter, but in this game you can also fully utilize the Fulton Recovery system to get a lot more points then just kills would get you. This puts more emphasis on playing stealthily, as you’ll want to sneak around and try and knock out an enemy and Fulton them for the maximum point count. This is made all the more tense as there are always other players close by to kill you before you can finish your task or even pop the Fulton balloon before your hostage can completely take off.

This mode also has a fair bit of customization for the player, as you’ll have the option of 3 different classes that have various stats and abilities. Enforcers are the standard guns blazing class that have the best arsenal at their disposal, Scouts are the support class that stay on the outskirts of the stage and provide sniper backup, and Infiltrators are the pure stealth class that use stealth camo and non-lethal means to knock out and Fulton enemies. Each class has their perks and offer different styles of gameplay, but Infiltrator is definitely the most used thanks to its stealth camo perk. While this will be a problem for some as it results in a lot of nearly-invisible people running around, if you know what you’re doing you’ll be able to spot these guys and avoid them giving you too much trouble. Like any multiplayer game worth its salts, you will gain points that will go towards leveling up your characters that will gain you access to more weapons and gear options.

The Phantom Pain is definitely one of the best open world games on the market today, as it takes the now overused gameplay style and makes it better feel fresh and engaging. However, as a Metal Gear Solid game it is hard to not come away slightly disappointed by the game’s lack of a consistently engaging story and lack of many great cinematics, in general. If this truly is the last game in the series then the glaring plot point that is left wide open will remain very hard to swallow, especially because it leaves the game’s story feeling unfinished. Even so, the gameplay is fantastic and offers a lot of freedom and variety, and the just released Metal Gear Online is sure to keep you coming back for plenty more. The Phantom Pain isn’t the best in the series from a story perspective, but from a gameplay one it easily takes the crown and becomes one of the best games of the year so far.

CONDONE

Condemn O.R. Condone – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 (PlayStation 4)

It’s been a long, long time since a Tony Hawks’ Pro Skater game has arrived on the scene, with the last installment showing up over a decade ago. It’s been a long time coming, but Tony Hawk is ready to get the old band back together to bring the long-running series back to its roots. The series’ journey beyond the Pro Skater games has been a bumpy ride to say the least, but maybe this one can bring us all back to the good ‘ol days?

Well, not quite.

At its core, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is the game that anyone familiar with previous games in the franchise would expect. You are dropped into a series of different courses that are filled with all sorts of crazy obstacles for you to ollie, grind, manual and spin over. As always, you will also have to collect S-K-A-T-E and C-O-M-B-O letters, while also searching for hidden DVD and VHS tapes. However, the big difference this time is that the area you drop into contains live skaters who will occasionally slam into you and challenge you to a match. It’s basically this series’ answer to what From Software has been doing with the Souls series, but obviously not done as well.

Speaking of slam, Pro Skater 5 introduces a brand new mechanic to the series called Slamming. Slamming essentially allows you to quickly descend while being airborne, speeding up the gameplay a bit and also saving you from situations where you miss your jump and are spiraling towards a splat on the pavement. It’s pretty cool in the right situation, but there is a fatal flaw that has pissed off me and many other gamers. The slam mechanic is mapped to the triangle button, which is the same button that is used to grind. During times when you are zipping around at high speeds and are gearing up your next grind, you may sometimes slam instead and miss the rail you were aiming for. With some practice I was able to get used to this and avoid it from happening too often, but it’s still a pretty big annoyance that will be harder to deal with for some people.

Prior to the game’s release, several screenshots made the rounds that showed off some seriously unimpressive graphics, and I’m here to report that the game certainly isn’t up to snuff in the graphics department. The courses themselves are well-designed and look well enough in-motion, but it’s when you get up close and personal when you finally see the grim reality. Texture details are extremely poor, and the character models… oh my dear God. The skaters themselves all look like they’re in some sort of hypnotic state of suffering, and developer Robomodo’s attempt to mask their poor designs with more cartoon-ish graphics hasn’t really done anything to mask that.

It also doesn’t help that the game is pretty buggy. When I booted up my copy of the game I had to install a patch that was nearly 8GBs in size. This seems pretty big in its own right, but when considering the game itself is around 6-and-a-half GBs you suddenly realize that something is definitely wrong here. I’m not sure what exactly this humongous patch fixed, but lets just say there is a heck of a lot more that needs addressing. Load times pop up frequently, your skater will go flying in slow motion or pop through obstacles and textures will sometimes fail to load properly. A lot of this stuff can seem minor on the surface, but it all adds up and really takes away from the experience.

The courses themselves each feature a mission-based list of objectives for you to accomplish, which takes you out of the free-roam world with other skaters into your own little mission area. These missions will ask you to do things like reach a high score, grind a certain distance to get to a certain amount of points, destroy a certain amount of items and so on. A lot of it is very silly and has that Tony Hawk charm that we would all come to expect, but this mission structure does have some annoyances. Once you start a mission you can’t quit it directly, as you must instead wait for the time to run out. Also, the progress that you were making in the free roam area is erased each time you enter a new mission, which can be really friggin’ annoying when you were only one item away from breaking all of a particular level’s pizza boxes.

Perhaps the biggest selling point of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is the online mechanic, as the series is trying to take what games like Dark Souls and the like have been doing by incorporating a world that feels more alive. It’s pretty cool to skate around and have others right there with you and occasionally bumping into them for some pretty funny results. It’s a fun little diversion, but the full course meal is definitely the ability to compete with other skaters in various different modes. You can hop into the menu and select from a variety of different modes featured in the main missions, only this time you’ll be taking on real players. There are definitely still some connection issues with this aspect of the game, but when you can get a good match going against other skilled skaters it’s a lot of fun.

For those who like to create their own adventures, create-a-park mode has returned to allow you to make the skate park of your dreams. This is definitely the most robust version of the mode that the series has ever had, allowing gamers to place hundreds of different objects into parks of varying sizes. In my time playing around with this mode I was able to create a couple of pretty cool courses, though I admit that I’m not exactly all that skilled when it comes to designing courses. Thankfully, the game allows you to try out other skaters’ creations, and checking out what other people have come up with is a lot more fun. I can see this mode giving the game a lot of staying power going forward, as long as the community’s creative juices keep flowing.

While the customization with skate parks is impressive, it’s in the character customization where the game is a bit of a mixed bag. You can choose from a variety of different heads, bodies, boards and symbols and you’ll unlock a lot more to play around with, which allows you to create some pretty sweet skaters. You have everything from aliens, angry paper bags and skeletons to choose from, and even Octodad himself is unlockable. Where the problems with character customization comes into play is the stat progression, as it really doesn’t work at all. As you complete more challenges you’ll get points to increase you skaters stats; such as his speed, ollie height and balance. However, I dumped all of my stat points into a single category and did not see any change in at all. This makes the character progression aspect of the game completely broken, which is ridiculous.

For all of the things that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 gets right, there’s about an equal amount of things that it gets wrong. The level designs themselves are pretty cool and allow for some great skating action, but they are rendered with some pretty ugly graphics. The online mode is a nice new addition to the series, but the clumsy and inconsistent matchmaking gets in the way too often. The core Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater gameplay is alive and well, but there are so many little bugs that add up to annoyances that pop up more often than they should. It’s aggravating because there is a really good game somewhere in all of this code, but there are too many problems that slow this skating game down too much for me to recommend it.

O.R.

The Rainbow Six: Siege Beta Was Destructive And Refreshing Fun

So the Rainbow Six: Siege beta has finally come to a close after being extended an extra several days by Activision, which means that I can finally sit down and dump my brain into an article. It’s been a long time since I’ve geared up for a Rainbow Six game, so playing Siege is sort of a reintroduction for me to this long-running series. Even though it’s been around forever, playing the slow-burning Siege was a breath of fresh air in an age where every shooter needs to move like lightning.

The big appeal of Siege is mostly that the environments are much more destructible than what you find in your typical shooter. You can shoot holes through many walls, floors and ceilings to give yourself unique ways to try and take down your opponents, and in certain situations you can even breach through them to give you and your team a new entry into a room. This turns what would typically be a more standard affair into a more paranoid one, as you can suddenly have a tsunami of bullets unwillingly injected into your body from any given angle.

Ease of access is a theme that runs throughout each match of Siege, as not only can you blast through most surfaces you can also rappel up walls to break through windows or climb up on rooftops. It may not seem like much, but it adds a jolt to a lot of matches in the right situations. Rappeling up a wall and then smashing through a window filled baddies is always awesome, especially if you manage to take them all down like a badass. You might not be able to completely demolish your surroundings, but what the game does allow adds a nice change of pace to the modern-day shooter.

This increased level of destruction is all the better thanks to Siege‘s slower and more methodical gameplay speed. Where most shooters today move at super high speeds, Siege feels like a leisurely walk, by comparison. That’s a really good thing, however, as it allows for more stealthy moments to make the eventual shootouts that much more intense. As a match begins everyone is moving sneakily through corridors as they try to find a head popping out over cover or around a corner, and this gives the matches far more tension, as a result. There are a lot more quiet moments to be found here, and it’s a huge breath of fresh air when most current shooters there is no room to breathe at all between the bullets.

The beta offers 3 modes to play in, with two of them revolving around reaching a certain area to arm a bomb or defeat your enemies and the other being a classic Terrorist hunt mode. Disarm Bomb and Secure Area really live up to what the marketing has been pushing for Siege, as you and your team breach through walls to get to an area guarded by the enemy team. You’ll stalk through hallways that will be guarded with barricades, barbed wire and more that the enemy has laid down to halt your progress, but you’ll also have items to help you overcome them.

You’ll also unlock new classes and weapons with Renown Points that you get for completing matches. There are several different classes that will have character loadouts that are suited for offense and defense, and each one packs a solid amount of variety. One loadout might have you moving around quickly with submachine guns, while another will make you a walking tank with a magnum and a riot shield. There’s a lot of customization to be found here even with this small beta, and that bodes well for the eventual full release.

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My biggest gripe doesn’t have anything to do with the beta at all, as it’s that Siege will not have a singleplayer story mode. I know that I’m strictly judging the beta here, but I’m really wondering how much left there will be to say beyond what this beta has already shown us. Siege is going to have to pack lots of modes, maps and weapons to warrant a $60 price tag, especially considering there is no singleplayer to speak of. Even so, strictly judging this beta alone, Rainbow Six Siege has reconnected me with this great series and has me optimistic for the final product.

CONDONE

Condemn O.R. Condone – Persona 4: Dancing All Night (PlayStation Vita)

There are few series out there that can pull off warranting spin-off games, and even fewer that have spin-off games that are even worth checking out. However, the Persona series is no stranger to spin-offs, with it already being a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series. That makes Persona 4: Dancing All Night the spin-off of a spin-off, and this time the series is tackling the dance genre.

If you’ve played Persona 4 Arena Ultimax or its prequel then you’ll understand the basic premise of this game: incredibly bizarre events occur that thrust our beloved Persona 4 characters into a situation where they must all band together for the common goal of thwarting whatever evil awaits them. The events that follow are usually incredible silly and serious simultaneously, but you go along with it because that’s what this series is all about. This time, though, there will be no fighting, but dancing.

The game takes place about a month after the epilogue of Persona 4, with Rise Kujikawa returning to the entertainment industry. Things don’t stay normal for long, though, as a strange internet video seemingly sucks the J-Pop idol group Kanamin Kitchen into an unknown world without a trace. Thus, Rise asks Yu Narukami to summon the old crew to reform the Investigation Team to try and save the pop idols and figure what the frig even happened.

So, what follows is lots and lots of character dialogue that the series is known for, with some dancing levels thrown in every now and then to remind you that this is, in fact, a game. The set up is very similar to Arena Ultimax, as you have a level tree with branching narratives that follow certain characters as the story progresses. The game doesn’t give you the option to choose which narrative you want to follow first, as it instead takes you along a set path and hops back to the beginning of a different side of the story once the current one ends.

Unfortunately, the story on hand here isn’t all that good, with an overall narrative that is overflowing cliches and characters that are constantly spelling every single slightly vague plot point out. I know that this game isn’t M-rated like Persona 4 is, but sometimes I was really wondering if the devs thought I was 3 years old with how much spoon-feeding they were doing with the story. Thankfully, the characters themselves are still mostly very likable and you can’t help but overlook the times where they fall into their “We can do it if we all work together!” speeches.

Out of all the different types of gameplay that the entire Megami Tensei series has tackled, Dancing All Night has to be the biggest departure yet. There are no true battles to speak of, instead we have brief dance levels where one of the characters dances along to a variety of different J-Pop songs while we hit button commands to the beat of the song. The gameplay is very simple, as button prompts begin from center of the screen then move towards the edges where you must press them when they reach the circles. The buttons you have to press will appear closest to the ones on the actual Vita, making it easier to understand what is going on despite the button prompts not moving in a linear path like say Dance Dance Revolution.

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Like in most music games, you get more points if you hit the notes at the perfect time. The more perfect notes you hit the higher your score will be, though if you miss too many times you’ll be booed off stage and will have to try again. If you do really well you have a chance to unleash “fever”, which summons another Persona character on the stage to boogie with you.

However, my biggest complaint about this gameplay is that it isn’t very challenging, and simply isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. No matter if you hit all the button commands or none of them, your dancer will never falter and the flashy and well-choreographed dance number will continue regardless. It also seems really strange your dance moves just kind of happen while the evil shadows watch on, as I would have much preferred a dance off. Imagine a Bust-A-Groove style game where you and someone else and an opponent are dancing against each other and you can summon your persona to throw off their rhythm? THAT would have been sweet! Instead, the only real use that the Personas have is that they cap off each song with a little solo of whatever instrument they have. It’s entertaining, but there was potential for so much more.

If you’re looking for a real challenge then hop into the game’s free play mode and play the songs on hard. Seriously, the difficulty bump from normal to hard is BIG and makes the campaign seem like a cake walk.

Still, as simple and easy as the standard gameplay may be, it’s still addicting and thankfully the soundtrack is able to pick up the slack most of the time with some really catchy tunes. There’s also something ridiculously intriguing about watching characters who have been through the messed up events of Persona 4 dance like complete idiots. Seriously, the Persona series is the only series that can pull off this kind of a spin-off without causing people to show up at Atlus HQ with pitchforks and torches. Bizarre is at the very root of this series’ DNA, and Dancing All Night is just another vein branching off from this wild and crazy heart.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night isn’t a game that I would recommend running out the door to get, but those out there who love dancing games and the Persona 4 cast they should definitely pick this up. The gameplay might not be anything revolutionary, but it can still be extremely addicting in short bursts. There’s also another very hefty story and dialogue to sift through, though it isn’t satisfying from a narrative perspective as much as it is from a character one. Overall, if you don’t know what the hell a Persona is this definitely isn’t the game for you, but hardcore fans with an open mind are sure to have a new obsession in the form of Dancing All Night.

RESPECTABLE

Condemn O.R. Condone – Shovel Knight: Plague Of Shadows (Wii U)

Shovel Knight was one of my favorite games to release last year, and since then I have played it many more times across every platform other than PC. Everything about the game is pretty much flawless; from its excellent and difficult level design all the way to its simple-yet-fantastic story and characters. So, more of that can only be a good thing, and it certainly is that and more with Yacht Club Games’ free DLC for the game called Plague of Shadows.

What Plague of Shadows brings to the table is a new campaign where you control not Shovel Knight, but Plague Knight. Plague Knight is attempting to concoct an all-powerful potion that will make him better than anyone else in the land, which takes him on a similar journey to Shovel Knight’s as he must battle the other knights throughout the game’s levels. However, Plague Knight’s story and him as a character become much more likable and sympathetic as the game goes on, resulting in a conclusion that hits nearly the same emotional wallop that the original did last year.

While Plague Knight’s overall adventure is similar to Shovel Knight’s, the experience feels entirely unique due to Plague Knight controlling completely different and the levels being remixed to accommodate that. Where Shovel Knight was a melee fighter that uses his shovel, Plague Knight is a ranged fighter that uses his exploding potions. These potions can be customized a lot by equipping a new case, powder or fuse to them, which allows you to change things like how quickly your potions explode, the trajectory of your throws and bonus effects that happen after the explosion. This results in a lot more attack options than Shovel Knight had, which is a nice change of pace.

Apart from customizing potions you can also customize your burst, which is something you can do by releasing your charge to jump higher in the air. Mixed with the fact that Plague Knight can also double jump you have a character that feels much more nimble. This results in some sections of the game that were hard with Shovel Knight now becoming easy with Plague Knight, but also vice versa. There are some enemies in the game that never game me a hard time before, but due to Plague Knight’s different moves I had to figure out different ways to take them down. I loved that shift in the gameplay as it made a game that was largely the same feel new regardless.

For you collectors out there, Plague of Shadows has even more reasons for you to search every nook and cranny than the first game did. The game still has the music sheets, but there are also dozens of Cipher Coins in each level that amount to over 400 in the whole game. These coins are far more useful that the music sheets are, as after getting a certain amount you can trade them in to add more items to buy in the shop. This made me want to go after them more than the music sheets did, as I knew I was getting something worthwhile for the extra effort.

If an awesome new campaign wasn’t enough for everyone, Yacht Club Games also added an all-new Challenge mode to the game. This mode is for both Shovel Knight and Plague Knight, with each character having 30 challenges to complete. As you would imagine, these are basically little chunks of a level that require you to do things like survive a wave of enemies for a certain amount of time or make it through a section of a level without attacking. These a blast to play through and are great when you just want to pick up the game quick and play for 5-10 minutes. Just as the core campaigns are very challenging, the challenge that this mode brings is no joke and is a great new addition to the overall package.

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Plague of Shadows is one of the best DLC expansions that I have ever played, which is made all the more sweet due to the fact that it is completely free. There are so many other devs out there that charge ridiculous amounts of money for usually mediocre-at-best content, but expansions like this restore my faith in DLC. You can tell that Yacht Club Games put just as much love and care into this as they did the core game, and their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Plague of Shadows matches the admiration that I have for the core game, and if you know me then you know that’s as high of a praise as I can possibly give.

CONDONE

Condemn O.R. Condone – Adventures Of Pip (PlayStation 4)

We’re seeing a return of the retro, 2D platformer and it’s something that has me grinning like an idiot. I grew up playing games like Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog, and even though 3D has given us countless awesome games there’s still a special feeling I get when playing a really good side-scroller. That feeling was brought to the surface once again by Adventures of Pip, a platformer that takes both retro and modern concepts and blends them into a funny and charming adventure.

Like in any retro platformer, our conflict is simple and to the point: an evil witch has come and turned the King and Queen into pixels and kidnapped Princess Adeline. The only one brave enough to go and rescue her is the lone pixel Pip, who must battle his way through multiple worlds packed with death traps trying to halt him at every turn. This premise is great because of the modern twist it puts on it. There are constant class issues between the “hi-res” and “lo-res” characters, with Pip being lo-res and getting crapped on by the higher-resolution upper-class. The game is also very self-aware with its pixel humor, resulting in many puns that are so bad they’re good.

The gameplay set-up is very similar to that of a 2D Mario game, with a world map giving you access to multiple worlds with multiple levels within them. The game’s handful of worlds follow standard platforming tropes with there being lava, forest, cave, etc.-themed levels. However, the actual platforming contained within them is very well done, with plenty of challenge keeping the game from getting dull. When it begins Pip is only a pixel who can jump and float, killing enemies by jumping on their heads. However, by killing enemies who are infused with the “Bitstream” Pip is able to evolve into a boy who can run, wall jump and punch, and even evolve again to wield a sword to better deal with enemies and break down certain walls.

This evolution system is turned on its head with the ability to devolve, where you can hold a button to revert back to a previous form while also causing damage. Shifting between pixel Pip and his higher-res evolutions adds some pretty interesting mechanics to the gameplay, as you need to devolve into pixel Pip to jump higher and squeeze under small areas. However, you can’t “re-volve” into real boy Pip until you defeat a Bitstream enemy. I love that the game regularly throws obstacles at you that require the use of each of Pip’s three forms, as it avoids the common pitfall of having the lowest form feel useless. You might not be able to break a certain wall as pixel Pip as you would 32-bit pip, but 32-bit Pip won’t be able to bounce as high off of a spring to reach a high area as pixel Pip would. You also don’t devolve by taking damage as you would in other platformers, with Pip instead having a heart container system that is very similar to the one in the Legend of Zelda.

The challenge that each level brings is perfectly solid, offering up the same kind of hair-pulling frustration that plenty of the classics did. To make it even more challenging, there are also 3 villagers hidden in each level for you to find, which will often have you sniffing out hidden areas that can be absolutely brutal to get through. My main problem with the levels, however, is even though they are well-designed and challenging, they start to feel a bit samey after a while. There isn’t enough variation in the levels to really make each world stand apart from each other, which is too bad considering how well-designed just about everything else is. It also doesn’t feel all that rewarding when you are actually able to rescue all of the villagers in each level, apart from witnessing them wander around the village again. However, the game’s visual design and orchestral score both blend very well together and constantly spark a feeling of old-school adventure that I loved.

As is the case with any platformer, there are plenty of pixels for you to collect from treasure chests and enemies for you to use in the game’s shops. The shops allow you to buy things that do stuff like increase defense, add another heart container or even double the amount of pixels received. The latter item in particular is essential to get as soon as possible, as the shops charge a lot for you to get the really good stuff, which is exactly how it should be. It would have been nice if these shops offered some items that shook up the gameplay a little more, but as it is they do just enough to make it worth making a trip back to town.

Overall, Adventures of Pip doesn’t really do anything to really shake up the platforming formula, but what it does do it does really well. The game’s charming world is filled with funny characters and challenging levels, with the game regularly forcing you to utilize everything at your disposal to make it to the end in once piece. More variety would have been nice to keep things rolling a little more smoothly, but as it stands Adventures of Pip is still a solid platformer that any fan of the genre should check out.

RESPECTABLE