Tag Archive: review


My last review left a bad taste in my mouth, as I had been dying for a puzzle-driven adventure yet had been sorely disappointed. I needed something fast to help forget about that experience and move on—and then a voice started whispering in my ear that I should play Pinstripe. After doing a little research I was willing to give it a shot, and boy, was I glad I did.

Pinstripe puts players in the shoes of a disgraced ex-minister named Ted. When Ted’s three-year-old daughter, Bo, is kidnapped by a shady figure named Mr. Pinstripe, Ted will literally have to travel to hell and back to save her. And, maybe he’ll redeem himself in the process.

I’m amazed at how often one-man Indie devs blow me away, and Thomas Brush should be commended for being the latest to do so. Serving as designer, programmer, artist, writer, and composer, Brush has crafted a beautiful world with a touching story about life and loss, guilt and grief, repercussions and redemptions. Ted’s story is a moving one, because even in Brush’s fantastical version of hell, he finds a way to tell a relatable story about one man’s mistakes and how they have come back to haunt him in a quite literal way. It’s poignant in its simplicity, but maintains just enough mystery revolving around Ted and his past to keep you pushing forward to the end.

Part of what helps that story is the world Ted finds himself in. From the moment you start playing Pinstripe, you’ll be amazed how it visually blends gloom with serenity, begging you to explore its world, but also providing a creeping sense of dread as you never know what new obstacle Ted will have to overcome next. The only thing that tops the arresting art style used here is the voice acting of all the characters. Although the world is sparsely populated, each new inhabitant you come across reflects the dichotomy of the world around Ted, with many toeing a line between being chipper yet sad, hopeful yet defeated.

Where Pinstripe falters a bit, however, is in its gameplay. Many of the puzzles are really quite simple; while some will provide that satisfying “a-ha!” moment when you solve them, most are relatively straightforward, and shouldn’t require a lot of brainpower. There’s also the issue that some late-game obstacles will force you to backtrack to the beginning of the game just for the sake of gathering collectibles that were unobtainable at the start. Although the hell Ted finds himself in isn’t a very large world, this retracing of steps felt forced, like Brush was trying to cram in some sort of metroidvania element that really wasn’t necessary. Instead, it made it feel like he was trying to forcibly lengthen an experience that still only amounted to about a three-hour romp in the end.

Also, for an ex-minister, Ted sure gets around well. Although there isn’t a ton of platforming to be had, there are some occasions where you’ll have to use momentum to swing platforms around and Ted will have to perform some quick, crafty jumps to get to where he needs to go on his quest to save Bo. There’s even the occasional enemy that Ted will have to bop on the head with a jump in order to progress. Enemies that can’t be jumped on can be taken out by Bo’s slingshot, an item Ted finds very early on his journey, but combat as a whole is limited to only a few sections of the game—and the slingshot is mostly another tool to overcome the game’s puzzles. Combat was clearly not a major focus for Pinstripe, which makes sense given our protagonist’s religious background; this is primarily a puzzle-adventure game through and through.

This all seems pretty straightforward for this type of game, but Pinstripe had one more surprise for me at the end of my initial playthrough, and that was a shot of replayability rarely found in this genre. Typically, once you beat the puzzles in a game like this, there’s little to draw you back to it again. Pinstripe, however, makes new items and secrets available for you to collect and find only after your first playthrough of the game. This was a nice way to get me to repeat an adventure I had moved pretty quickly through the first time, and added a nice extra layer of depth to the experience.

Pinstripe was a Herculean effort by one man, and it provided one of the more interesting worlds and better stories I’ve played in quite some time. The drawback it seems of this passion project, however, comes in its length and its simplicity. Even though everything wrapped up neatly in the end, and I think the story was perfectly told, I would’ve loved if the world of Pinstripe had even more depth and characters to it, and if the complexity of the puzzles were greater. That said, you would be missing out if you passed up this narrative experience, even if the game lacks any real challenge for anyone familiar with this genre.

Publisher: Atmos Games • Developer: Atmos Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.25.17
7.5
What it lacks in length and complexity, Pinstripe makes up for in narrative. It’s a compelling story set in a beautiful world full of interesting characters, and that alone should be worth a look for most—even if there’s really not much challenge to this puzzle-adventure game.
The Good An interesting world driven by a moving story.
The Bad A bit on the short and simple side.
The Ugly The thought that hell doesn’t have to be all fire and brimstone in order to be torturous to someone.
Pinstripe is a Steam exclusive, available on PC, Mac, and Linux. Primary version reviewed was for Mac. Review code was provided by Atmos Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I’ve gushed over puzzle-platformers enough times at this point that it should come as no surprise that when I see a new one on the horizon, my interest is immediately piqued. So, when I saw the trailer for Little Nightmares, the same feeling of wonder and curiosity that usually comes over me again returned. Once I actually played Little Nightmares, however, any good will this game had garnered by crafting itself around one of my favorite genres was quickly lost, never to recover.

Little Nightmares follows the plight of a small girl named Six who is trapped in an underwater ship called The Maw. Six must try to escape this prison before she becomes the next snack for one of the Maw’s many hungry residents, and she will have to use all her ingenuity to outsmart her captors and earn her freedom.

I will say one thing that Little Nightmares does well—and which is evident almost from the very beginning—is the mood and atmosphere it established. The chilling music and sheer emptiness of the world that Six starts her adventure in immediately lets you know the odds are stacked against you. Her bright yellow tunic serves as a stark contrast against the mechanical, muted tones of each of the game’s five levels, providing a beacon that constantly pulls your eyes to it, similar to how Six’s singular tool—a small lighter—lights her way through some of the game’s more cramped corridors or ventilation shafts.

The cantankerous creatures that roam these oversized areas only punctuate the vastness of the Maw. Gluttonous, disgusting humanoids intended to elicit the most negative of reactions from all who glimpse their bloated forms will chase Six at the slightest hint of her presence for much of the game. Outsmarting them and, more commonly, outmaneuvering them is the only way to survive.

Unfortunately, these “people” also serve as the only form of real challenge in an overly simple game, and they are a paltry one at that. Almost no thought is required in order to overcome many of the obstacles of the Maw, with usually only a couple of well-timed jumps getting the job done, or Six sneaking by an unsuspecting denizen guarding the path. It feels like someone confused a running simulator with an actual puzzle-platformer.

The only small semblance of difficulty comes from the camera and controls, and their technical limitations. The camera feels like it’s constantly swaying, as if it’s attached to the hull of the Maw’s ship and sliding along as Six works her way up and out of its different levels. This swaying, however, is not conducive to the platforming that often needs to be carried out to get by the pits that provide Six’s most common obstacle. It also feels at times like the camera is lagging behind her, catching Six at an odd angle instead of seeing her perfectly perpendicular from the side. This causes the controls to slightly shift depending on where the camera is positioned, and walking across thin beams can become a nuisance as forward is no longer perfectly to the right or left on your joystick, and you slightly start to veer off course through no fault of your own. There’s nothing more frustrating than slipping off the edge of a small platform that you thought you were walking straight on, or making a jump that you had the distance for, but find Six hitting the edge and falling because the depth made the next platform look like it was on a different jumping line.

Well, there might be one more frustrating thing. Six has very limited abilities in the game and therefore, in order to try to fill up buttons on the PS4 controller, simple traversal abilities that are often assigned to only one button in more complex games are divided up amongst the other buttons. If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan, you’re likely familiar with the “claw grip” of the early games, where your hands are basically locked onto the X and R2 buttons (A and RT on Xbox controllers) in order to parkour through the world. Similarly, you must hold Square and R2 with Six in order to not only climb, but also grab ledges when you make jumps across pits. If you’re not holding both, Six will hit the ledge at her waist, and instead of latching on, fall to her death. This is made all the more complicated by X being the jump button, forcing three simultaneous button presses to be made to traverse most obstacles—and I just don’t understand why run and grab are on two different inputs. It felt like it was a desperate attempt to make the simplest game controls more complex in an attempt to cover up the game’s actual lack of challenge.

Some of this could potentially be forgiven if the mystery of the Maw and Six’s plight could pull you in, but sadly it failed to do so for me. I wonder if it’s because I never felt truly in danger traversing the environment, my only failures ever coming due to the shortcomings of the controls and camera. What’s worse is when the game finally starts to feel like it’s ramping up its stakes, Six’s plight, and the game’s underlying messages, it pulls the plug. I finished the game in just under three hours; while there are plenty of experiences of comparable length more than worthy of your time out there, like last year’s Inside for example, Little Nightmares felt like it was just scratching the surface of what it wanted to be when it runs out of steam.

I believe the most obvious message the game tries to convey is the evils of modern consumerism, portrayed by the gluttony of the Maw’s patrons, and Six’s own poignant near-starvation that crops up near the end of each level. Little Nightmares could’ve gone so much further than a buffet table and a kitchen, however; gambling, alcohol, sex, and other vices could’ve all had their chances to shine on the Maw, and would’ve lent length and weight to a game that feels incomplete as is. Even the weird lord of the Maw’s seeming obsession with beauty and physical perfection is barely touched upon with more than a few symbols.

Little Nightmares tries to surround itself in symbolism and mystery, and succeeds in painting a bleak and moody atmosphere at least. At the same time, it failed to find a way to make me care about the main character’s plight. What’s worse is that its poor controls and camera, and utter lack of challenge, had lost me by the time it started to feel like it was finally going somewhere. My only relief came when the end credits began to roll on this poor attempt at a puzzle-platformer.

Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment • Developer: Tarsier Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.28.17
4.0
A stellar atmosphere is not enough to save such a puzzle-platformer that completely lacks any sort of challenge. While the story of Six is a sad one, it’s not for the fact that her adventure begins in a cage—but that the developer failed to find a way to make me care about it at all.
The Good Beautifully crafted, atmospheric world.
The Bad Controls poorly and the overall game lacks any sort of challenge.
The Ugly Is being eaten a really scary thing for European children? I don’t get it. That was never a thing for me as a kid.
Little Nightmares  is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

You’d be hard-pressed to convince me that I didn’t grow up in a golden age of cartoons, as there was always animation inspired by video games, movies, comic books, and action figures to be found. Shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Super Mario Bros., Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man, GI Joe, Transformers, and more would serve as constant imagination fuel, but often only in half-hour increments at a time. Because of this, there was a clear king of the animated landscape: the Disney Afternoon block. Not only was the animation and antics top-notch, but we also got shows for two solid hours. Four different cartoons crammed back-to-back, and we didn’t have to wait until Saturday morning for it—we got it daily. Since a lot of animation at the time took inspiration from other media, it should come as no surprise that the osmosis worked both ways, and it wasn’t long before Capcom was working with Disney to crank out games based on the Afternoon shows. Those days of my childhood are long gone, and those cartoons can no longer be found on TV. But the games—the games are back.

The Disney Afternoon Collection takes six of the most beloved NES-era side-scrolling video games inspired by the Disney Afternoon block, polishes them up real nice, and presents them to us in a single package. DuckTales, DuckTales 2, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers 2, TaleSpin, and Darkwing Duck all make triumphant returns on modern day consoles with an assortment of bells and whistles, including an HD coat of paint or the option to stick an old-school CRT TV grain filter over everything.

Each one of the six games is basically a side-scroller with minor variations thrown in. For example, DuckTales is primarily a platformer and TaleSpin a shooter, while Darkwing Duck is both. Whatever the case may be, I always consider myself a bit of a savant when it comes to these old-school games, and if you’re like me, you’ll be thrilled to know that all the challenge and difficulty that these titles were known for back in the day remains largely intact. Enemies will respawn when you walk off screen and then back, collapsing platforms still only give you the narrowest windows for success, and health recovery items are as hard to find as health bar extenders. But, if you’re also like me, you’re big enough to admit when you’re a little rusty, and everything might not be exactly in the same spot mentally as it was nearly 30 years ago.

Luckily, in case you’ve never played these games before, or you just need that gentle nudge in the right direction until your timing comes back, there’s a brand new “rewind” feature. By tapping a bumper button, you can reverse time and save yourself from a perilous pitfall, sharp spikes, or bouncing baddie that just won’t get out of your way. Each game also has a single save state, so you can save mid-playthrough if you need to turn the game off for some reason. Of course, both of these remove a lot of the original challenge, thereby shortening each of the six games to an under two-hour experience should you resort to using those options. And I will say, removing the challenge of these games is like sucking the life out of the games themselves, since it’s not exactly like you got a ton of story back in the days of the NES. The choice of how you play is entirely up to you, though, and that is always appreciated.

If you want your initial playthrough to be about re-learning the games without the temptation of using these tools, Time Attack mode removes all potential assists. Here, all that’s changed is the addition of a clock, pushing you and your reflexes back to the 80s and taunting you with leaderboards to see just how skilled you are. If replaying the entire game sounds like a bit of a time sink, there’s then the Boss Rush mode, which also removes assists and touts leaderboards while catapulting you right into (arguably) the most memorable parts of each level. It’s still so satisfying beating that damn Moon Rat in DuckTales.

There are a few other downsides to the rewind feature beyond the lessening of the challenge, however. Sometimes, if you don’t hold it down for long enough, or if you use it in short bursts in quick succession, the entire game you’re playing will slow down (because it’s trying to catch up to the changes you’re making, but you’re making them too quickly). I actually had Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers 2 completely freeze up on me while rewinding during the final boss against Robot Fat Cat, because I was micromanaging the battle in preparation for my Boss Rush run (which I was going to do afterwards while the boss fights were fresh in my mind). So, that is definitely something to keep an eye out for.

If you are at all a Disney nerd, the biggest addition The Disney Afternoon Collection might bring isn’t even in any of the six games. Instead, it’s the Museum mode, where design documents, box art, never-before-seen concept art, and all the music for each game is available for you to check out at your convenience. Seeing the access Capcom had to the Disney vault, and now finally being able to share in some of that, is really something special.

Whatever served as imagination fuel for you as a kid tends to turn to nostalgia fuel as an adult—kind of like how dinosaur bones turn into oil. It’s clear that a huge part of the appeal of The Disney Afternoon Collection for a gamer such as myself is that I get the chance to relive a large part of my gaming childhood with this assortment of games, and even get to play some of them for the first time (I missed out on the sequels originally because I had already switched to the SNES by then). Besides a few hiccups with the rewind feature and the occasional crash, this is a great way to relive the past or to use it as an introduction to a new generation of Disney fans—as long as they can appreciate the 8-bit “vintage” look.

Publisher: Capcom • Developer: Digital Eclipse • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 04.18.17
7.5
It’s pure nostalgia, but if you loved these games as a kid, there’s just enough new features to bring you back to it again—and they hold up well enough if you have someone you’d like to introduce these games to for the first time
The Good New optional rewind features and save states serve as nice crutches while you shake the rust off.
The Bad Occasional crashes and lag caused by liberal use of the rewind feature.
The Ugly Your realization of how skewed time was as a child, when you find out none of these cartoons made it more than 100 episodes (DuckTales’ 100th was its final, while no others made it that far).
The Disney Afternoon Collection is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Capcom for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Like many gamers around my age, my gaming prime came on the Nintendo 64. Those late adolescent/early teen years of my life were spent pouring hour after hour into the medium’s first 3D worlds, and few experiences hold as special a place in my heart as the action-platformers on Nintendo’s system. Driven to grab every collectible, I’d spend hours watching counters go up as I crossed items off, only to start a new save file and do it all over again. One of my particular favorites was Banjo-Kazooie, and so I was nothing if not intrigued when I found out many of the minds behind that classic from my youth had started a new studio, and successfully Kickstarted a throwback to that era titled Yooka-Laylee. While it was fun to walk down an updated memory lane, Yooka-Laylee is also a reminder in some ways of how far we’ve come in gaming, and how some things are better left in the past.

Yooka-Laylee follows the titular duo of a chameleon (Yooka) and his best bat friend (Laylee) as they enjoy a relaxing day at their new home Shipwreck Creek, which is just outside the corporate Hivory Towers. Meanwhile, the head honcho of the Hivory Towers, Capital B, sets in motion a plan to steal all the world’s literature as he looks for one special, magical book. It should shock no one that the book is actually in Laylee’s possession, and she and Yooka don’t take kindly to having it suddenly taken away from them. The book’s pages—dubbed “Pagies” in the game—don’t take to this idea either, ripping themselves from their bindings and scattering about the tower. Now, Yooka and Laylee must race to collect all 145 pages, put the book back together, and stop Capital B’s plans once and for all.

Yooka-Laylee is a textbook spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. The names have changed, the worlds have changed, and even some of the powers have changed, but playing Yooka-Laylee is like forcing yourself to feel déjà vu for 10 to 20 hours depending on how many collectibles you go after (a one-hundred percent run took me almost 20 hours) and if you ever played those original games. For me, this was great, because I love the colorful characters, the tongue-in-cheek British humor, and the puzzle solving and platforming gameplay that served as staples for Banjo-Kazooie (and continue here). But, after wiping the nostalgia from my eyes like crud caked onto them after oversleeping, I realize there are also some problems with living in the past like Yooka-Laylee does, since the game largely ignores the 20 years of progress games development have made.

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The first (and most) evident problem is the camera. Even after the day one patch, I still felt like I had to wrestle with the damn thing like it was 1998 all over again. Here I was, swearing at the TV that the angle wouldn’t let me see what I wanted to see, or that it had pulled in too close while Laylee was using her flying power, or that the perspective suddenly shifted, and so too did the controls. The good old days, right? It was a common and accepted occurrence back then, but we’ve progressed past that as an industry for the most part—yet here was this nuisance from the past cropping up once again.

The controls are also looser than all the bowel movement jokes worked into the game. While they’re rarely bad enough to ever actively get in the way of you beating the game, they can get frustrating—especially with Laylee’s flying or Yooka’s roll move that allows you to traverse steep inclines—when trying to grab collectibles as you just barely over or undershoot your target because it feels like you’re fighting the controls more than you should be.

Another favorite problem is the game-breaking glitch. Banjo-Kazooie had one that was never fixed (even when it was re-released with Rare Replay) called the Bottles Puzzle Glitch. This would make it so if you did a particular puzzle before collecting all 900 music notes in that game, some of them would magically disappear, and you’d be stuck just shy of 100-percent.

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In Yooka-Laylee, there seems to be a similar glitch in world four, the Capital Cashino. In order to obtain most Pagies in the level, you need to collect 10 coins on various casino-based mini-games, a fun change of pace that adds variety to the experience. I discovered late in my playthrough that by destroying out of order slot machines, you could grab a bunch of coins at once. Thanks to that, I wound up cashing in four Pagies worth of coins at one time, after which the little auto-save icon popped up and then faded away. I ran around for a few more minutes looking for (but never finding) more coins, and then I proceeded to turn my game off for the night. To my horror, when I returned to Yooka-Laylee the next morning, not only did I not have all four Pagies I had cashed in my coins for (I only was credited with two of them), but the coins and the out of order slot machines themselves were gone from the world. So, too, was every other coin I had already collected from the world.

Now, this wouldn’t stop me from beating the game, but it’s clearly a glitch that prevents you from getting 100-percent in the end (like the Bottles Glitch). I believe the autosave point happened in-between the Pagie counter increases but after I cashed in all the coins at the same time. It was unfortunate, and it’s—admittedly—a lot of speculation on my part to the hows and whys of the matter, but after several hours I resigned myself to starting a new game, beginning from scratch, and cashing in 10 coins as soon as I got them every time in Capital Cashino—then getting my full clear on that playthrough.

Yooka-Laylee does do a fine job of following in its ancestor’s footsteps on the positive side of things as well, however. The worlds are absolutely gorgeous, with colors that you didn’t even know existed just popping off your screen. As well, the soundtrack is amazing; I’m still humming the opening theme while writing this, and honestly you’d be hard-pressed to get the Capital Cashino theme out of my head.

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The worlds are also absolutely massive. There may be only five of them—six if you count the main hub—and they may start out at a size comparable to what we were used to in the N64 days, but Yooka-Laylee adds variety by allowing you to spend Pagies to quadruple the area of each world, offering up hours of additional puzzle-solving and keeping each world from growing stale as a new cavalcade of characters are introduced with even more quests to complete.

And, my glitch notwithstanding, each collectible feels challenging, but not ever unobtainable. This is a difficult balance to strike to get people to keep playing and not be bored of the collection process, yet Yooka-Laylee makes it feel effortless. There’s also a great open-endedness to each challenge, which is something I had forgotten I loved about these games. You can bend the rules once you have the proper tools at your disposal in order to circumvent some of the difficulty. In fact, I’d recommend doing the bare minimum to open up each basic world and concentrate on obtaining the full repertoire of Yooka and Laylee’s moveset. Once you unlock all their abilities, you’ll be able to find faster, more efficient ways of solving puzzles and beating bosses when you subsequently backtrack.

Speaking of powers, Yooka and Laylee also have a bevy of transformations courtesy of a character named Dr. Puzz that would put Mumbo Jumbo’s magic to shame. Plant, animal, and even vehicle forms allow the duo to explore every nook and cranny of each world. There’s also an additional power you can utilize over the course of the game called Tonics that offer everything from more health to more special ability meter, or even just fun stuff like giving Yooka familiar-looking blue pants to wear—but you can only ever have one active at a time.

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One other minor addition sees Yooka-Laylee borrow something from the modern era: multiplayer. A polygonal dinosaur character named Rextro is the purveyor of old-school arcade games inside the main campaign, and he also offers up some local co-op and versus multiplayer options for up to four players on one couch. It’s a nice touch from a crew that supposedly always wanted to add a multiplayer component to the Banjo games, but could never do it back in the N64 days.

Finally, there’s the writing. Personally, I loved much of the tone of this game. It never takes itself too seriously, and the toilet humor finds an interesting sweet spot between what we saw in Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Banjo-Kazooie—including in the very first level, where you need to loosen the bowels of a talking cloud in order to get it to rain or snow in the world to unlock new challenges. I also liked many of the characters, like the aforementioned Rextro, and Trowzer, the special move-selling snake. Heck, even the loading screens make fun of the game itself, or how games used to be back in the N64 era. You could potentially alienate some of your younger audience with references back to the days of memory cards and cartridges, but I found it to be charming.

Yooka-Laylee was a fun stroll down memory lane, but it also serves an unintentional purpose: It reminds us how much better things have gotten in games over the years. While still being solid in its own right as an action-platformer, its humor and style won’t resonate with everyone, and there are definitely some technical issues holding it back. However, for those of us who grew up with Banjo-Kazooie, our rose-colored glasses can remain mostly intact as we hunt for countless collectibles, even as our tastes have matured along with the industry. Hopefully, those unfamiliar with the roots of this game will be able to forgive that, sometimes, we older gamers just wanted a talking, constipated cloud to change the world around us, and focus on the platforming instead.

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Publisher: Team17 • Developer: Playtonic Games • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 04.11.17
7.0
Some long-forgotten issues from way back in the day crop up again in this throwback action-plaformer, but even if you aren’t playing it through the nostaliga of someone who grew up with Banjo-Kazooie or other adventures like it, you’ll still find a solid game to play in Yooka-Laylee.
The Good It’s a love-letter in every imaginable way to classic 3D platforming adventures of the N64 days.
The Bad It stays too true to form from the N64 days, and carries over a lot of the issues with those games as well.
The Ugly The save glitch in the Capital Cashino world that required me to start my entire game over if I wanted to make a one-hundred percent run.
Yooka-Laylee is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC and coming later for the Switch. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Team17 for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Before getting into video games, I always thought sports would be the ultimate end goal of my media career—who knew you could make money playing and writing about video games—because all I ever wanted as a kid was to get into every game at Yankees Stadium for free. Obviously, my career took a different turn, but I still have an undying love for baseball (and still think I’m better than 90% of the play-by-play broadcasters out there). So, it is with renewed joy every spring that the baseball season gets underway, and with it my two loves of video games and baseball come together with the annual release of MLB The Show—and this year’s entry into the series is enough to have both gamers and sabermetricians alike excited.

MLB The Show 17 is a year where it feels like everything has come together for the franchise on the PS4. Whereas last year was a big focus on new modes and really expanding the series’ repertoire, this year was refining everything into a mold as perfectly cast as a Cooperstown plaque. While graphical improvements, ball physicals, and fielding animation improvements may not sound as exciting as brand new modes, they lend themselves to help make this the most realistic experience the series has yet provided for baseball fans. And, all it took was one full game in Franchise mode for me to be immediately blown away.

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My New York Yankees were opening up the season at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays, and I was locked in a 0-0 tie in the fourth inning. Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro was stepping to the plate with one out when I ripped a changeup I was a little out in front of down towards third base. Evan Longoria made a dive to stop it. In previous years, this ball would often have been shot on a straight line, likely into Longoria’s glove—but right after the first hop about halfway between home plate and third base, the ball was clearly curving. In fact, it had curved in a way I had never seen before in a game, bouncing between Longoria’s outstretched glove and the bag, and into the Trop’s exposed bullpen area. A satisfied smirk crossed my face when the umpire pointed that the ball was fair. As my time with The Show 17 continued, I would have more moments like this, both on ground balls on the infield and fly balls down the line. I bring this up specifically because it provided a sense of realism—of true simulation—that I had never seen before from a baseball game.

Of course, just because the ball moves how it might in a real game now doesn’t mean it’s uncatchable. At the time of my writing this review, I’ve come a long way from that first game, and am well into the dog days of summer with both my Franchise and Road to the Show created player. Since then I’ve fielded dozens, if not hundreds, of ground balls, and a new tweak to throwing runners out on the basepaths is that you can now pre-load your throw by selecting the base before actually catching the ball. This allows not only for a more fluid and natural looking animation from when your player catches the ball to when they release it, but prevents a lot of the cheap infield hits that plagued previous entries in the series due to that extra delay caused by not being able to throw until obtaining possession of the ball.

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Besides the smoother animations this year, new character faces and models—coupled with three brand new presentation packages—provide a sleeker look to The Show as well. MLB Network now lends its entire graphics package, including all sorts of hit-tracking effects and replays, to The Show alongside two more “regional” looking setups for those games that aren’t necessarily game of the week caliber matchups or for those minor-league days in RTTS. Matt Vasgersian returns to do play-by-play (he’s one of those 10% who are better than me) with brand new lines, but is now joined by three-time gold glove winning second baseman Harold Reynolds and 18-year journeyman relief pitcher Dan Plesac from the MLB Network team. The commentary has been something I’ve been able to come down on for quite some time for The Show, but the addition of Reynolds and Plesac, along with their situational banter, really kept things fresh for far longer than normal this year on the announcer side of things.

Now, when playing The Show, I admit I am usually one of those control freaks who loves playing every single game from start to finish. Yet, even I admit a 162-game regular season can be a bit of a grind. And, in an attempt to mimic other sports games out on the market such as Madden that have added similar options in recent years, there are two new additions to Franchise to help speed up that process. One is called Critical Situations, and allows you to simulate large sections of a team’s schedule with The Show dropping you into individual games during moments that can decide the outcome. It’s a great way to circumvent that summer grind, and really move from game to game quickly. My only issue with this option thus far is that most of those moments seem to come sometime in the ninth inning, which takes a little bit of the impact out of the situation if you always know what’s coming.

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If you still want a touch more control when simming, there’s also the new Quick Manage and Player Lock options. Player lock has you follow key moments for an individual in the game and provides an experience similar to RTTS where you only follow your created player. Your chosen player’s fielding opportunities and at-bats are all you play. Meanwhile, Quick Manage gives you a more top-down approach, similar to just managing a game. You decide when to hit, bunt, steal, hit & run, pitch to a hitter, pitch for contact, pitch around them, change pitchers, and more. Every major decision can be done batter to batter from both sides of the ball, but unlike a straight CPU sim, you can drop in whenever you want. I found myself dropping in a lot because one negative I discovered with this option is that the AI is lacking, often stranding runners on third with nobody out, or failing to get them over in appropriate situations, even when calling for more situational hitting. Also, I’d love if I could more easily see match-up numbers, like how opponents do hitting against lefties or righties, from the main screen in this mode without having to navigate lots of menus or jump into the game to decide what substitutions I should make. It would help with the flow—and again plays into my micromanaging style—but I found this Quick Manage as a whole the best way for me to get through my season at a much more decent clip.

The other major offline mode for MLB The Show 17 is, of course, Road to the Show. In another attempt by The Show to mimic its sports game contemporaries out there, RTTS this year has focused on adding a stronger narrative direction while maintaining much of the gameplay from years past, streamlined by a cleaner user interface. This story, where an omnipresent narrator talks over new cutscenes that feature sit-downs with your manager and coaches in the clubhouse, along with branching dialogue paths that can dictate the future of your career and what your team thinks of you, is meant to help give a more human feel to what has become in years past a methodical grind to the top of baseball-dom. It’s not nearly as in depth as what is seen in NBA 2K or even what FIFA added last year, but it does add a lot of personality to the mode, and I hope this serves as the foundation for something deeper in later years. I found myself wanting to interact with my coaches more, and even looking for boosts or rewards of some sort stemming from my answers, so hopefully this is just the first step in taking an already great mode to a new level.

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The final staple of The Show’s repertoire is its online modes. The card-collecting Diamond Dynasty mode returns, and is addictive as ever if you get as involved with collectibles as I do. The single-player Conquest section of this suite, which features three-inning games with you using a team you build from those collected cards, also returns largely unchanged if fantasy match-ups are more your thing. There’s then online seasons and the returning Battle Royal mode that is basically baseball’s version of Madden and NHL’s Draft Champions, where you draft a fantasy team before taking on random opponents. The biggest issue with MLB The Show 17, however, is one that has plagued the series for years now: the fact that, at least thus far in the first week since launch, the online issues are ever-present. Although connecting with people seems to have resolved itself over the past few days, tremendous lag and online glitches are still constant. Balls getting stuck against the wall, players not leaving the batter’s box on hits (and subsequently being thrown out at first on shots into the gaps), and lag to where you can barely even see the ball, leave the online play again wanting.

Luckily, as I’ve lain out, there’s plenty to do offline, but it’s still disappointing that online play remains The Show’s bugaboo. And, while I focused primarily on the improvements to the series’ staple modes, there is one new mode that can also provide some local play if you’re looking for a throwback and still need that human competition. It’s honestly a bit of a throwaway mode really, but it’s a nice nod to cover athlete and new MLB Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., and the early baseball games Griffey championed back in the NES, SNES, and N64 days. Retro mode, which features an 8-bit filter if you so choose, touts old-school sound effects and UI, and even two-button gameplay that out R.B.I. Baseball’s R.B.I. Baseball. After years of so many more complex button schemes, I admit it might’ve been the hardest thing to get used to in this year’s version of The Show—but it’s a nice little bonus for those of us old enough to remember the “good ol’ days”, although Junior’s weird, deadpan commentary on some plays and between innings was definitely not necessary.

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MLB The Show 17 is easily the pinnacle for the series thus far. It continues to add depth to its staple modes, and find new ways to increase the realism of its simulation experience. The narrative addition to RTTS could lay the foundation for even more exciting and immersive things in the future, while online play continues to nag the series at launch—but, with so much depth of play in the offline experience, some might not even notice. If you love baseball as much as I do, you’ll no doubt love MLB The Show 17, too.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: SIE San Diego Studio • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.28.17
9.0
MLB The Show 17 sets a new pinnacle for the franchise. It creates more depth for its tent pole modes and polishes everything else to a terrific gleam. Some online issues and glitches still continue to plague the series at launch, but you might get so engrossed in Franchise or RTTS that you won’t even notice until they’re fixed.
The Good New ball physics, quick manage mode, and the RTTS narrator are great additions to The Show’s best modes.
The Bad Consistent server and online issues. Again.
The Ugly How the heck did we ever see anything back in the 8-bit days?
MLB The Show 17 is a PS4 exclusive. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Back before Wayne Gretzky exploded on the scene in 1979 to deke defenders into submission and spin-o-rama his way to a career highlighted by the most points in NHL history, hockey was brutal. Teams like Philadelphia’s Broad St. Bullies epitomized the rough and tumble style that fans came to love, and every team that had success in that era had at least a “goon” or two on the bench. It’s a mentality that has since all but left the NHL, but is still immortalized in old footage—and, now, a little arcade-style video game by the name of Old Time Hockey.

More than anything, Old Time Hockey is really a love-letter to the all-time classic comedy Slap Shot (which also focused on the brawling era of hockey). You control the Schuylkill Hinto Brews, one of ten teams in the Bush Hockey League. The Brews were primed for a great season—right up until the first regular season game when the Widowmakers went gunning for and subsequently injured the Brews’ three star forwards for the entire season. Wallowing in last place now, you take over the Brews just before Christmas when you get the news you have to make the playoffs. Otherwise, there’s a good chance the team will go under, alongside the nearby Hinto brewery from which they get their name.

The style of Old Time Hockey is as much a throwback as its premise. The game looks like it would fall more in line with the Wayne Gretzky arcade games on the N64 from 20 years ago than anything on the modern generation of consoles. The simple cel-shaded character models might be off-putting to some, but it served as a reminder to me of how things used to be, and worked well for a game that clearly wanted to go for a vintage look as much as possible. Simple blood effects splattering on the ice from every jaw-breaking fight and bone-crunching hip check only continues to emphasize the cartoony nature of the game.

The audio is great as well. I was almost tempted to just let the soundtrack play on repeat, with organ renditions of “The Addams Family Theme” and “Hava Nagila” really driving home the point of rundown local hockey arenas, along with Stompin’ Tom Collins’ “The Hockey Song” and The Donnybrooks’ “Old Time Hockey” setting the theme for when the puck finally drops. My only gripe came with the commentary, which becomes very repetitive very quickly, and lacks the charm or excitement a game like this would warrant from hockey fans.

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Unfortunately, while Old Time Hockey has style in spades, it truly lacks any real substance, caused by a bevy of questionable decisions and poor design. In a rarity for any sports game—arcade or simulation—the bulk of the game is centered on the story mode, which ends up being both the greatest boon and biggest detriment for Old Time Hockey. Continuing the love affair it has with Slap Shot, as you progress through the story mode, you’ll get little peeks at the character of your team—with newspaper clippings talking about beating up a mall Santa, drinking on the team bus, and trading a washing machine for a new enforcer—which flesh out the narrative of what you hope will still be a Cinderella season. This was a ton of fun to see, and even collectible trading cards talking about the personalities of the stars in the league can be earned to further flesh out these fictional skaters.

Once you actually get onto the ice, however, everything quickly falls apart. The controls are alarmingly stiff, and even with an early patch quickening the time that you get the puck off your stick, it’s still extremely slow by the standards of anyone who has played recent hockey games. There’s always the excuse that it was more accurate for hockey back in the day, but it’s a lot less fun when one-timers are nigh impossible, you lose possession because it takes so long to pass that an opponent knocks the puck away, or you whiff on a slap shot attempt because the follow-through takes forever. And, the lack of responsiveness with the controls permeates the defensive side of the puck as well. Hits can be extremely difficult to line up, and even with being able to hook and trip opponents with the ref sparingly blowing a whistle, it still feels like you can’t skate quickly enough to ever effectively corral that ever-elusive loose puck.

Part of this might stem from the simple animation most players have. Every player shares the same set of animations, and once you start picking up the patterns, it’s easy to spam certain maneuvers in order to try to at least give yourself an advantage. A perfect example is the goaltenders, who can never be controlled by a human. They only have two passing animations, making it easy to predict where they’ll send the puck after making a save—which allows you to gather it before your opponent and get an unintended second-chance opportunity. It’s one of those moments where you appreciate how far games have come over the years, because even though “glitch goals” have never been completely eradicated even in modern hockey games, blatant gameplay tells like this are something I haven’t seen in decades, and would rather stay in the past.

Another aspect that had me scratching my head was the control scheme options. It’s great that Old Time Hockey offers an arcade-y two-button system, a more sim-heavy NHL game style scheme, and even a one-handed “beer mode” where everything is assigned to one side of the controller so you can drink with the other. The problem comes with the fact that you have to play story mode with the NHL-style system, and until you beat story mode, you can only play exhibition with the arcade or beer controls. It just seems pointless to have this content be separated by the mode you’re playing.

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And, that leads me to the worst aspect of Old Time Hockey and its story mode: each game in that mode has objectives for you to overcome. A few are optional, but most are mandatory, and unless you beat every mandatory objective in a game, no matter whether you win or lose, you have to replay the game over and over again. Some of the objectives are easy, like get two hits with one of your players, or take eight slap shots over the course of game. Others can be infuriating, however, and you’ll often have to replay games repeatedly, forcibly increasing the length of playtime with little to no progress being made. The worst for me was trying to provoke the opposing goalie into a fight, particularly because—again, pointing back to the shoddy controls—it’s not as easy to score in Old Time Hockey as you would think.

Part of this also stems from the fact that basic hockey abilities like slap shots, hip checks, and even fighting at one point are all locked behind objectives and tutorials that you don’t get until later in the story. I thought the game was honestly broken when I started playing, when all I could do was pass and take wrist shots. It’s damned near impossible to win—and definitely not fun to play—when you have to grind for the most basic of abilities that any hockey player should be able to do.

The only thing more maddening than all this, though, is when it seems you’re finally going to overcome an objective—and then, the game crashes. Old Time Hockey crashes a lot; the day-one patch allayed this a little bit, because they frequently would happen off faceoffs, but as of writing this review they still happen in the middle of the action, like when taking a slap shot from the point or making an epic hip check in neutral ice. It’s absolutely soul crushing when you’ve finally achieved every objective, are winning the game, and are basically waiting for the clock to hit all zeroes when you get booted back to the PlayStation UI with an error number. Hopefully another patch can help the stability of the game, but right now it’s a nightmare waiting to happen.

Besides story mode, there is also a local versus option for Old Time Hockey, but it lacks and sort of online play. This could, again, be part of the throwback style, forcing you to experience the game with a friend on a couch, but I’m not sure I want to force my friends to experience this. Otherwise, they might not be my friends anymore.

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Old Time Hockey was a great idea, but it has way too many shortcomings once you actually start playing the game to be enjoyed. It handles poorly, the story mode objectives are ridiculous, and the game crashes make the headaches far outweigh the little fun to be had here. If you really want to experience hockey from a bygone era, your time and money would be better spent watching Slap Shot again.

Publisher: V7 Entertainment • Developer: V7 Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.28.17
3.0
Old Time Hockey is more style than substance. Its heart was in the right place, but shoddy controls, glitches, and poor gameplay design make this an arcade-style game hockey fans just don’t need in their lives.
The Good The style and soundtrack is a throwback in the best ways possible.
The Bad Stiff controls, repetitive commentary, random game crashes, and oddly gated gameplay abilities via story mode.
The Ugly Those classic hockey player smiles.
Old Time Hockey is available on PS4 and PC, with versions coming for Xbox One and Nintendo Switch later. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by V7 Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

“And it’s another ambush.” This innocuous, almost throw-away line of dialogue near the end of a side mission on the ice planet Voeld was one of the most compelling moments in my time with Mass Effect: Andromeda. Not because the situation or even the line itself was particularly thrilling, but because the exasperation with which the line was delivered was exactly how I had felt for about the first 30 hours of the 65 it took me to finish the campaign. The seeming self-awareness by Ryder was the first time I found myself able to finally relate to the new hero of one of gaming’s most beloved series, and yet succinctly summed up one of the main reasons why I was not enjoying myself.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is of course the fourth main game in BioWare’s epic space-faring RPG franchise. This latest chapter technically begins between the original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, where a former N7 named Alec Ryder and his children sign up for a program known as the Andromeda Initiative, a space-exploration mission that sends them—and nearly 100,000 others from select races—off towards the Heleus cluster in the Andromeda galaxy while frozen in cryo-stasis upon special ships aptly called Arks. The journey is set to take just over 600 years, and the hope upon arrival is they will be able to colonize “golden worlds,” planets that appear hospitable for life from the Milky Way. Taking control of one of Alec’s fraternal twin children (male or female), you soon realize that the worlds you had hoped to forge a future on are no longer golden, and the ill-timed death of your father makes you inadvertently the tip of a new spear that must be forged if civilization is to thrive on this new frontier.

This task of finding and terraforming new worlds is one of your two major objectives in Andromeda as the newly designated “Pathfinder” for the Initiative—and I quickly grew to despise it. Ryder must make five planets viable for life to live on, but the process is the same each and every time: activation of ancient technology on each world to expedite the terraforming process while completing mundane tasks for people on or wanting to go to the planet. It’s bad enough the worlds can be boiled down to “ice world,” “jungle world,” “sandy desert world,” “rocky desert world,” and “hive of scum and villainy.” Combine them with monotonous, circuitous fetch quests that have you bouncing around the galaxy and suffering through long, unskippable interstellar travel scenes before getting just a couple of lines of dialogue and a green check mark in your menu, or being sent to an outpost to kill all the bad guys, and I honestly almost wanted the Initiative to fail. They’re the most transparent and dull quests an RPG can provide, especially with minimal main story involvement, and it all just felt like a mechanism to bloat the game’s length from the 30-35 hours it could’ve been—which would have fallen in line with previous games in the series—to the 65-75 hours you’ll likely need to do everything now, should you choose to do so like I did. If ever there was an argument that bigger isn’t necessarily better, Andromeda makes it.

The other major issue with this task is that it makes the universe feel like a knockoff of what the original trilogy had provided, as your job is just building this galaxy up to original Mass Effect levels.  When I landed on the Citadel in the original Mass Effect, the alien races and the scope of everything blew me away. When you land on the Nexus (wannabe Citadel) in Andromeda via the Tempest (wannabe Normandy), many alien races like the drell, quarians, elcor, hanar, and volus—to name just a few—have all been cut. Only the krogan, turians, salarians, asari, and, of course, humans, have supposedly made the trip from the Milky Way. To replace nearly a dozen other species from the original trilogy, all we get are the new enemies (the kett), one new ally (the angarans), and the references to a long dead race whose technology plagues Andromeda (the remnant). In a game that felt like it was trying to sell itself on exploration and new experiences, it’s depressing how little there was in Andromeda to genuinely explore and get excited about, since it all felt so familiar and barebones. BioWare should have streamlined the side quests, not the Heleus cluster.

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Luckily, your other main objective in the Andromeda galaxy will feel a lot more familiar, and is a lot more fun. Along your viability journey, you’ll come across the aforementioned kett, a ruthless alien race bent on conquering every species in the known universe. While not focused on all-out destruction like the reapers were in the original trilogy, the kett are interested in assimilation, and they are very curious in everyone who just appeared from the Milky Way. This conflict makes up the majority of the game’s story beats, and the missions associated with stopping the kett not only provide more variety than the viability ones, but are heavily grounded in the dialogue and character development we’ve come to expect from a BioWare game. The leader of the kett, the Archon, is the epitome of the ruthlessness that embodies his people, and my only complaint on that front is I wish there was more of him—and more length to this storyline in general—as he worked from the shadows most of the game.

Speaking of characters, it wouldn’t be Mass Effect without a ragtag group of aliens and humans coming together to represent the diversity this fictional galaxy is supposed to be all about. I was a little shocked that the group just seems to be thrown together rather quickly and haphazardly—you’ll have your entire squad by the start of the second planet—but I couldn’t help but develop strong emotions towards each and every one of them. In fact, the long chains of events that culminate in their loyalty missions might have been my favorite objectives in the game. And, because all of the characters don’t know the fate of the Milky Way since they left after the original Mass Effect, it is interesting to see them wonder about what might’ve happened, how old prejudices like those between salarians and krogans are still running strong here in Andromeda, and how they sort through the mysteries and baggage they brought with them which often prompted them to leave everything they knew behind in the first place.

What strengthens these relationships the most, though, is dialogue. Although some of the dialogue—and the acting in general—is hit or miss, more options than the Paragon/Renegade choices of the original trilogy have been offered to help provide a better, more rounded Ryder than Shepard. Some answers are more professional, while others more emotional. Some are guarded; others show a softer side to Ryder, and in turn, possibly your teammates. It’s a welcome bit of nuance for one of the series’ core mechanics. There’s even an opportunity within some cutscenes—almost like a Telltale game—where pressing a trigger button will have Ryder act impulsively, which could profoundly affect relationships down the line.

Of course, you’re not just talking in Mass Effect: Andromeda. The third-person shooter gameplay from the main trilogy returns with some tweaks to them. A new cover mechanic has been added that really doesn’t work as well as it should—most of the time, you’ll hug a corner you didn’t mean to, and even then you’re often still at least partially exposed. And, credit to the AI here, if you do stay in cover for too long, the enemy will quickly try to flank you. So, your best bet is to keep moving. A new jetpack that gives you some pure jumping ability has also been added that allows you to float when aiming, but really, flying above all your cover just makes you a prime target.

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The jetpack also introduces some teeth-grindingly frustrating platforming sections to the game. Exploring the ancient ruins you need to navigate in order to turn on each planet’s terraforming machines is a torturous exercise in futility. Adding jumping to a game with an emphasis on exploration makes sense, but it lacks the finesse necessary to keep the mechanic—and vertical navigation in general—from becoming nothing but a chore. Ryder never sticks a landing after a long jump, often times leading to him tumbling off an edge, and it is very difficult to judge distance here because the camera is positioned far too closely to your character. It’s perfect for a third-person shooter, not a third-person platformer.

The last major addition to gameplay is that four of the five planets you need to make viable require you to traverse them in the Nomad, the new version of the original Mass Effect’s Mako. Simply put, the Nomad sucks. You need to change gears to climb even the slightest incline on every planet, it lacks any sort of weaponry—which would have made the more bad guy-ridden planets a lot more fun instead of constantly having to leave the vehicle to shoot people—and even when you are able to climb up a mountain that should be accessible, you’ll find blue neon walls appear to signify the edge of the world, forcing you to take the long way around every mountain. Driving was almost as much of a chore as jumping.

As you complete missions, explore the landscape, and take out kett and remnant, you’ll level up like in any RPG. Much like the more nuanced dialogue options, there are many ways to make Ryder truly unique to you here in Andromeda. Dozens of power options fall under combat, technology, or biotics, with three non-passive choices being able to be carried into battle at a time (though they can be switched out on the fly via the menu screen if a situation should change). By spending points in each category, you’ll also unlock profiles, which give boosts depending on your playstyle. For example, the Soldier profile is exclusively combat tree-heavy in its bonuses, while others mix and match two of the three trees in its bonuses, with one profile skewing to all three. I preferred the Vanguard personally, which was a mix of combat and technology.

For as easy as leveling up is, though, the new crafting system is as much of a chore as a lot of the other systems added to this game. You can’t craft on the fly, having to either find a tucked-away research & development console somewhere on a planet, or return to your ship, which always takes back off into space for some reason whenever you return to it. I really don’t know why you can’t just go into the ship without it leaving dock and triggering the same annoying cutscene—trying to cover up the game’s awful loading times, perhaps. Collecting resources is easy enough, but building and equipping items is so bothersome I only touched the R&D consoles when I absolutely, positively had to make a change or craft a quest item.

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While on the subject of load times, now is also perfect to talk about how broken Mass Effect: Andromeda is from a technical aspect. Animation has never been a BioWare strong suit, but there were many instances while I was playing that the animation was busted or weird on another level. I’ve seen three different Drack (your krogan ally) walk into the galley on the Tempest at once; I’ve seen PeeBee (asari ally) blink out of existence in the middle of a conversation; I’ve seen the Nomad spawn in places it shouldn’t, like inside buildings; I’ve fallen through the world on fast travel points, and had Ryder randomly give speeches from cutscenes in missions that I completed hours prior. I’ve seen some shit in this game, and that’s not even including the long load times, the awful draw distance, and the instances where the game literally comes to a complete halt if you drive too fast in the Nomad as the planets you are driving on struggle to load into your game. This game is going to be getting patches for a long time.

Besides the campaign (which comprises the overwhelming bulk of Andromeda) there is also a multiplayer component. Andromeda basically borrows the wave-based, horde-like multiplayer from Mass Effect 3 and updates it with new maps, new enemies, and some new objectives. There’s also dozens of new loadouts available that can be unlocked, but I personally would rather just be given a couple characters that can be more deeply customized than all these starting templates that need to be unlocked. There are also microtransactions to purchase credits to unlock items, but going that route is wholly unnecessary. (Of course, I think the multiplayer part of Mass Effect is unnecessary to begin with, though.)

Fighting seven waves of enemies with friends to obtain items—some of which can be carried over to the campaign, like credits and crafting materials—loses its luster very quickly to me. That’s especially the case now that the single-player campaign allows you to send CPU “Strike Teams” to do the missions instead, getting you all the gear you want without the time commitment of having to find friends to play with and stepping away from the story. Managing these teams from a console on the Tempest was a lot more fun and a lot less time consuming than the multiplayer, but if wave-based survival with some objectives is your thing, there are also a lot worse choices out there than what Andromeda provides. Also, I had no issues connecting or finding people to play with, so that’s a plus at least.

Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t a bad game—but it is far from what we expect from the series. Poorly written fetch-quests, a dead universe that requires the player to bring any semblance of life to it, and more glitches than can be found tolerable in a game like this horribly mar the experience. There is a strong foundation of characters and story that is being laid down here, which gives me hope for the future, but this new chapter of the Mass Effect saga is a high price to pay in order to reinvest in a universe so many of us had come to love.

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Publisher: Electronic Arts • Developer: BioWare Montreal • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.21.17
6.0
There is a strong core of characters and story bedrock laid down in Mass Effect: Andromeda, but between questionable design choices, boring missions, and glitches galore, it’s hard not to view BioWare’s journey to a brand new galaxy as anything less than mission failure.
The Good The main story and new cast of characters are often as compelling as those left behind in the Milky Way.
The Bad Lots of busy work fetch-quests, a sense of everything being too familiar for being 600 light years away, and bugs—so many bugs.
The Ugly I fell harder for PeeBee than I expected.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

At this point, we know that the Wii U had a ton of shortcomings. If there was one good thing to come from that console generation for Nintendo, however, it was when they really threw their doors open and welcomed indie games full-bore. We can look back at titles like Runbow and Shovel Knight and know those wonderful experiences helped solidify Nintendo’s indie-friendly stance. None may have been more impactful, though, than Fast Racing Neo—a sequel to the Wii’s Fast Racing League—that gave gamers everywhere the closest thing we’ve had to a new F-Zero in what feels like forever. The love for that game made it a no-brainer then for developer Shin’en Multimedia to continue the franchise and deliver us Fast RMX on day one with the Switch.

In a lot of ways, Fast RMX is Fast Racing Neo 1.5. It touts all 24 tracks Neo had with its DLC, but with six brand new ones also in tow, upping the total to 30. Meanwhile sharper graphics, Switch functionality, and a new “Hero” mode help beef up the experience of this hardcore anti-gravity racer. There isn’t really more than that, but that’s perfectly fine in my book. You just hop into the cockpit of one of three different vehicles (there’s 12 more to unlock as you race) and aim for the finish line. Depending on where you place gives you points, similar to Mario Kart, and the racer with the most points at the end of the three-race circuit is the champion.

The hook for the racing is in the name. Every vehicle averages top-speeds well over 1,000 MPH as you soar through locations both terrestrial and beyond. There is a bit of strategy here as well as different-colored speed strips—activated by changing your exhaust stream with a press of a button to match the color—which can give temporary boosts. Collecting power orbs also allow you to fill up your personal boost meter, giving you that necessary edge in long stretches without speed strips, and again placing a pure emphasis on going as fast as possible. Playing smart and finding the perfect paths between boosts is a must.

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And, if you’re going fast enough, you can bump your rivals out of the way too. Fast RMX should be commended for never pulling its punches with its AI; right from the first race, you’ll be fighting all the other racers and jockeying for pole position, as your opponents will use boosts just as much as you while definitely not being afraid of bumping you off course. All of this means that, as the game progresses, unless you pull off a near-perfect race you’ll be more and more likely to lose. I’d never been so happy over a third-place finish before by the time I had reached the Platinum circuit.

You’ll find the 30 courses in the game take place in myriad settings, cutting through rainforests and glaciers here on Earth or zipping around space stations and asteroid quarries. The course locations are absolutely gorgeous, with the amount of detail surrounding each track hinting to a spectacular future where these circuits can take place while also taking your breath away.

If only the tracks themselves were as consistently inspirational. Some definitely take advantage of the anti-grav future premise the game is built around, and will make you audibly utter “wow” as you swirl around the course’s curves. And, if you’re not careful, you can fly off an edge, crashing and burning just as easily as soar ahead of other racers for a victory. There are plenty of shortcuts to be found on some courses, and knowing your vehicle’s capabilities as well as the track could lead to shaving precious seconds off your lap times.

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Other courses are very straightforward, however, and don’t push the envelope nearly as much. What’s worse is when it felt like the game tried to make more simple tracks far more difficult by adding obstacles—particularly around blind corners. For example, one track is observed by giant, insect-like robots, which randomly decide to cross the street with no rhyme or reason, crushing your vehicle. It didn’t make the game more difficult as much as it felt cheap at times as a crash all but guaranteed a less-than-stellar finishing position and likely some forced replays until you learn where everything is by heart.

In terms of the game’s modes as well, I wish there was a bit more depth. You start with your standard series of championships and classes. There are 10 three-race championships to start, and three different classes ranging from Subsonic to Supersonic. Although having all 30 tracks available in a single race class was a lot of fun at first, it quickly became repetitive with the minimal increase in difficulty change once it was time to move up in class—and my motivation was lacking since I had already seen all there was to see. It would’ve been better had some championships been relegated to each class, giving a sense of identity to them, and marking a more obvious increase in difficulty between courses.

There’s also the noticeable absence of time attack mode. What could’ve been a great way to learn tracks for championships and improve your times will be patched in later as free DLC, but it being absent at the moment is disappointing to say the least. In its place is the mentioned-above new Hero mode. This is meant more for after you’ve already learned the courses, since your boost meter is also your shield meter here, and it’s much easier to crash—and if you crash in Hero mode, the race is over. If—for some reason—you want Fast RMX to be even harder, this mode is for you.

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It’s not just racing against the computer all day in Fast RMX, however. There’s a local multiplayer option that supports up to four players, with each player taking a Joy-Con and linking it to the Switch. There’s also online multiplayer, which works fine at this point, but it lacks certain amenities like online friend support that Shin’en has again said will be patched in later.

Fast RMX is the better version of an already good racing game. If you’re looking for something that will challenge your reflexes and get those competitive juices flowing, then this is a great game for you. The fact that some modes missed launch is disheartening, as is the inconsistent track quality, which can lead to as much frustration as fun at times. We may not ever get another F-Zero game, but the Fast series is doing a great job at trying to make claims to the title of its successor.

Publisher: Shin’en Multimedia • Developer: Shin’en Multimeda • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.03.17
7.5
The fact that some of Fast RMX’s modes like Time Attack missed launch is a bummer, and track design can be a bit inconsistent in terms of quality, but if you’re looking for a pure arcade racing experience, this heir apparent to F-Zero will definitely do the trick.
The Good A constant challenge from the first race. Each racing location is absolutely gorgeous.
The Bad Time Trial mode is absent at launch. Course design feels a bit uninspired. There are only incremental differences between cup modes.
The Ugly Just clipping an obstacle and watching as your racer careens off a cliff in a fiery heap.
Fast RMX is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Review code was provided by Shin’en Multimedia for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

There had been a Bomberman game on every Nintendo system ever until that streak finally broke with the Wii U. Looking to make sure that mistake wasn’t repeated, Konami surprised everyone when they announced that their first Bomberman game and the first game we’ve seen from the series in seven years—Konami acquired original Bomberman creators Hudson Soft in 2012 and then never used the IP—would be a Switch launch title. As someone who played more than a few entries in the series on several different Nintendo consoles, this was an exciting surprise, made all the better by a game that actually delivers a decent-quality maze-busting experience.

Super Bomberman R opens up on Planet Bomber, where the original white Bomberman is admonishing his seven siblings for ignoring their demolition training duties. As they all go around the room making their excuses, a man named Buggler announces himself to the world and challenges team Bomberman outright with his own team of five Dastardly Bombers—who promptly begin wreaking havoc at different outposts all over the galaxy. The Bombermen must now fight their way through the Dastardly Bombers to get to Buggler and end his reign of terror.

Even when Bomberman moved away from his arcade roots and started trying to add real story elements with Mega Bomberman in the Sega Genesis days, it was never really a game driven by its plot—it was more like we now had an excuse as to why we would go around willy-nilly blowing up every brick wall and balloon enemy we found. Similarly, Super Bomberman R’s story isn’t its strong suit. It tries to go for a Saturday-morning cartoon vibe, with each cutscene touting over-the-top comedic dialogue, but it’s clearly just there to loosely tie the entire adventure together. For old-school fans, you’ll appreciate how it pays homage to the Bomberman games of the past, at least in terms of modernizing the stories of characters like Buggler (Bagular in the old games) and the Dastardly Bombers. If you’re not a die-hard Bomberman fan, you’ll still be able to follow along, although you likely won’t care nearly as much as those of us who have some history with these characters.

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Where Super Bomberman R shines is in its gameplay, which again blends the earliest adventures of Bomberman with some of his later 3D escapades. Most of the campaign is spread out across five worlds with 10 stages each. The first eight of these stages are your classic Bomberman fare, as a cavalcade of breakable and non-breakable blocks create mazes of varying complexity that are littered with enemies that can one-hit kill our hero. Each world has its own theme, but after just a couple stages on each planet, the aesthetics become a tad dull. Every world is also designed in 3D, but the locked isometric camera gives off those old-school puzzler vibes fans of the series likely first fell in love with.

Most of these stages require you to eliminate all your enemies—the most common task for Bomberman over the years. Adding a new wrinkle, however, are stages that feature survival objectives, escort missions, finding hidden keys, or stepping on a series of hidden switches. This variety helps keep gameplay that can become repetitive fresh, especially when you’re still relatively underpowered and need to find all the classic bomb, blast, and movement power-ups the series has always featured.

The last two stages of each world are where the game gets really fun, harkening back to more recent titles in the series. First, you have to take on a Dastardly Bomber in single combat, trying to trick them into blowing themselves up if you can’t find the perfect way to do it with your own bombs, or maybe a combination of the two (several times I would use an enemy’s bomb against them to pin them in a corner and secure victory). If you can defeat them in single combat, then the Dastardly Bomber transforms into a massive map-filling mechanical monstrosity. For example, Golem Bomber becomes Fort Walker, a giant robotic turtle where you have to blow up each of its four legs before blasting away at its head. Meanwhile, Plasma Bomber becomes Judge Gwinbee, a flying mech with machine guns that you have to blow up as it flies by. These moments made whatever grind the rest of the campaign might dish out more than worth it, and truly put your skills to the test.

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And trust me, your skills will be tested, because you will die. A lot. It’s still surprising how often you might lose track of how big your bomb blast is, forget about an enemy around the corner, or just accidentally barricade yourself between two bombs and watch as your life counter drops by one. The chaos only increases if playing the campaign in 2-player co-op due to friendly fire. Easier difficulties offer more lives, but no matter what setting you play on, the system by which you receive more continues is more mind-boggling than any maze the game throws at you.

Super Bomberman R features an in-game currency (no microtransactions) that rewards you with coins for beating Dastardly Bombers in the campaign or by winning multiplayer matches. This currency system can be used to purchase cosmetic items for your Bombermen, new maps, and unfortunately, also campaign continues. This weird interchanging of the currency means that if I ran out of lives and didn’t have enough coins saved up because I bought Black Bomberman this sweet top hat, I’d lose my entire progress on a level and have to start at stage one again, no matter my position. Lower difficulties see the price of continues drop, but it’s a weird way to have to game the system, often forcing you to choose between multiplayer goodies and beating the main game and creating an unfortunate grind.

Even with this odd currency situation, the greatest strength of Super Bomberman R—like many Bomberman games—remains the multiplayer component, and it’s only been enhanced further with the Switch. Up to eight Joy-Cons can be connected to a Switch for some truly frantic local action, or four Switches can link with two Joy-Cons each, again resulting in the same scenario. Even if you don’t have a full complement of local players, you can always play online. While there have been reports of connectivity issues at launch, I can attest that at least during my personal time online over the past few days, I had no problem connecting with other players. Either way, the multiplayer action that the series is known for remains, and there is no more fulfilling feeling than trapping your buddy in a corner with explosives—and no more harrowing feeling than when the same thing is done to you in turn.

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If you can’t get the full complement of eight players either way, you can also add bots to the multiplayer fun. However, I’d advise against it. The bot AI can’t be adjusted, and they are almost always set to master level it seems, knowing just how far away they need to stand from your bombs or the perfect way to trap you almost every time. The best multiplayer fun in Bomberman is against friends anyway, and that remains true here in Super Bomberman R.

Super Bomberman R might not pack the punch of one of Bomberman’s bombs when you think of console launch titles, but it’s still a quality experience. The campaign can be a bit of a grind, but has enough surprises and enjoyable moments to keep pulling you through—especially if playing co-op with a friend. And, like many Bomberman titles of the past, the local multiplayer experience with friends is almost second-to-none—that is if the game doesn’t blow up your friendships as much as you do brick walls. A few questionable choices like the in-game currency definitely add an unwanted grinding element to everything, but any fan of old-school Bomberman should be more than pleased with this long-awaited return.

Publisher: Konami • Developer: Hexadrive • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 03.03.17
7.5
The in-game currency decision was a head scratcher, as it adds an unwelcome grinding element to much of the gameplay. If you can look past that, then there’s a decent campaign and the same addictive multiplayer Bomberman is known for sitting at this launch title’s explosive core.
The Good A surprising amount of content, with 8-player multiplayer and a campaign that lasts for more than 50 levels.
The Bad Level design and gameplay can get repetitive after a while; in-game currency system.
The Ugly Accidentally trapping yourself between two bombs and then there are those few seconds where you’re just waiting for your inevitable end.
Super Bomberman R is a Switch exclusive. Review code was provided by Konami for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

For me, Age of Empires on PC was my gateway into the world of real-time strategy games. Then, just a couple of years later, Command & Conquer on the N64 almost did the exact opposite, making me recoil from the genre. It wasn’t the games themselves, but the method in which I played them. Although I became more engrossed in consoles over the years, the RTS genre always held a special place in my heart from those early PC days, but I could never find one that captured what made the genre great on a console. So, when I needed a fix, it would end up leading to a rare PC purchase for me. Then, in 2009, fittingly enough the studio that made Age of Empires figured it out with Halo Wars. It wasn’t just marrying one of my favorite shooter series to the genre, but they had figured out a way to make it control almost as well as on a PC. Ensemble Studios may now be gone, but Halo Wars lives on, and another stellar RTS developer in Creative Assembly has picked up the ball and run with the series in spectacular fashion in Halo Wars 2.

When last we saw the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire, they had immersed themselves in cryosleep, beaten, battered, and with heavy losses after emerging victorious in a grueling battle with both the Covenant and the Flood. Now, 28 years later (up to date now with the Halo timeline), the crew is woken up when the Spirit of Fire drifts within range of an Ark, and picks up a UNSC distress signal coming from its surface. Commander Cutter quickly dispatches a team, and everyone is shocked as all they find is a young AI named Isabel. She quickly gets the Spirit of Fire crew up to date on the last 28 years, and reveals a new enemy in The Banished, a Brute-led force so powerful they were able to splinter off and earn their freedom from the Covenant.

On the surface, Creative Assembly has only really made minor tweaks to the basic gameplay of the original Halo Wars, but that in and of itself is an accomplishment. It’s not easy to make an RTS game work on consoles, but maintaining a lot of the same controls—like using the A-button to sweep over and collect units, or double-tapping a bumper to select all the units—I never once felt hampered when commanding my UNSC or Banished armies in both campaign and multiplayer. One major addition was particularly handy, though.

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A feature long available on PC RTS games—and noticeably absent from the original Halo Wars—was the ability to assign units to groups so you could bounce back and forth easily between teams fighting on multiple fronts. Now, you can create four separate groups on the D-Pad by holding a direction and a bumper, making army management a lot simpler. It may not be as much as the 10 groups you can create on a keyboard, but it’s a start, and can go a long way to your enjoyment of the game—in particular when the campaign sets up several missions where fighting along multiple fronts is the necessary way to go if you are to achieve victory on harder difficulties.

The other major addition is how much more in-depth Creative Assembly has gone with the upgrade trees and units you can make. Following the story, the Banished won’t have many familiar Covenant faces like the Jackals, because they wouldn’t make sense (no spoilers!). A variety of different Elites, however, help fill in myriad roles of units like these that didn’t carry over from the first game. And this works on both sides of the war, with one example being retrofitted Cyclops replacing the Cobra tanks—the UNSC’s anti-vehicle units for the original Halo Wars.

One of Halo Wars 2’s best features, however, is how the campaign not only fits perfectly into the Halo universe with a tremendous story, but teaches you all about these new mechanics and units as you play. You’ll experience them all as the narrative unfolds, prepping you before you take the plunge into the multiplayer modes. There’s also some surprising replayability with four different difficulties (all also available in 2-player co-op), high scores, and the optional and bonus objectives, which is how you actually unlock skulls this time around instead of searching for them tucked away in corners of the battlefield.

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The campaign, however, is also where one of the biggest flaws with the game crops up: its length. A full playthrough on normal only clocks in at about 6-8 hours (depending on if and how often you fail a mission), and only consists of 12 missions—one of which is really a 5-minute tutorial. Looking back, this is three chapters shorter than the original game. While the length doesn’t detract from the great story, and it’s nice the campaign goes to such lengths to teach you about all the units and lower the bar of entry for those potentially new to the RTS genre like mentioned above, I also got the feeling that I was never about to truly cut loose until the very last mission.

That’s because right up until the end, I felt the game was still giving me tutorials and holding my hand for a bit too long, keeping certain units back behind a curtain—and when everything was finally at my disposal, the game was over. Limiting players with certain scenarios and stipulations is good some of the time in an RTS campaign, but doing it nearly every mission can get a bit stifling, and prevented me from learning as much on my own. Really, experimentation in an RTS is sometimes part of the fun.

I was also surprised that there were a couple of moments in the campaign where some precipitous frame rate drops occurred (in particular, many of them happened in Mission 7). There really weren’t any other technical issues to speak of in my time with the game, and these could’ve just been the occasional pre-launch hiccup which can easily be patched on day one—but it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for.

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While playing an RTS game in single-player is all well and good, as I alluded to before, it’s really just the appetizer before diving into the multiplayer. Halo Wars 2 really shines here if you’re any sort of an RTS fan. The multiplayer suite is larger than before, featuring new modes like Strongholds, where players are given infinite resources while racing to build the biggest army first while trying to control the most bases. The team with the most bases at the end—or the one that can wipe out their opponents—wins. It’s a nice complement to Team Deathmatch and Domination if you’re looking for something more casual and less centered on the all-important resource management of other RTS modes.

The shining jewel, though, is the brand new card-based Blitz mode. Yes, it’s really an easy way to add microtransactions to yet another game, but it is entirely unnecessary to spend any extra money. You can earn cards by playing the game’s other modes (including campaign), and by leveling up your overall rank. There are also daily and weekly challenges across all modes that can reward you with special cards, too.

The idea in Blitz is that every player has a 12-card deck, and can even customize 18 total decks if they want (three for each of the six starting commanders in the game). Each commander has special cards only they can wield, and really add some unique elements to each deck. When you play Blitz, you draw a four-card hand and can only call units onto the field by playing cards, which you do by collecting resources like in any other RTS game. If playing against others, it takes on a Domination-like feel, with each player or team vying for control of three different points. If you play against AI, Blitz turns into a wave-based survival mode.

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I hate to admit it, because it seems like so many games are trying to add trading card game elements somehow now, but Blitz was probably my favorite of the multiplayer modes. Each match was fast (8-10 minutes), deck building is easy, and there’s still the strategy element you’d expect from something featured in an RTS game. Knowing where and when to play cards is vital. And, since you will always have a limited amount of units, knowing when to break someone off from your main groups to go collect more resources is critical to being ready for the inevitable conflicts. My only complaint about the mode is it only features one map, but with no match ever playing the same—even when using the same deck—it’s really a minor annoyance at worst. Also, it should be mentioned that I noticed no problems with Halo Wars 2 servers, but these were pre-launch conditions only populated by devs and a few dozen other members of the press. Once the game is released into the wild, it could be an entirely different ballgame, so that’s also something else to keep an eye out for.

As a fan of the original Halo Wars and RTS titles in general, I almost couldn’t be happier with Halo Wars 2. It continues the story of some of my favorite characters in the expanded Halo universe in a fitting and fun way, while giving me the competitive, strategic gameplay I expect and crave from a game of this genre. I wish the campaign would’ve given me a bit more length and freedom in a lot of scenarios, but other than that, Halo Wars once again shows the right way to do real-time strategy experiences on a console.

Publisher: Microsoft Studios • Developer: 343 Industries/Creative Assembly • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 02.21.17
9.0
Halo Wars 2 does a fantastic job building on the foundation laid out by the original game. New modes and new characters highlight what is a fun return to the Halo universe, even if the campaign is shorter than I’d prefer.
The Good Deeper upgrade trees, being able to assign units to groups, and Blitz mode are all fantastic additions to this stellar continuation of the first game.
The Bad The campaign is on the short side, and the occasional lag.
The Ugly The stream of expletives that one dude screamed on headset when I stole his Grizzly tank with my Spartan Alice in Blitz mode.
Halo Wars 2 is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.