Tag Archive: shooter


People are always trying to combine things to make better and more interesting things: Peanut butter and chocolate; Batman with Superman—in comics, not in the movies; pineapple on pizza. Okay, the jury’s still out on that last one. In the case of Agents of Mayhem, though, all the best action of the 80s is being slammed together with the over-the-top humor and situations the Saints Row series was known for in a spin-off that takes place in the same universe. I recently got to go hands-on with Volition’s latest open-world foray, and it’s shaping up to be a love letter to everything great from GI Joe to Knight Rider.

In our demo, we got to play as nine of the 12 members of an elite super fighting force called Mayhem who, simply put, could care less about being heroes—the fact they’re saving the world from people even worse than them is a side bonus. They’re in it to win it for sure, but mostly just for themselves. It’s sort of like the enemy of enemy is my friend; they’re our friends just because they hate the really evil guys from a group called Legion a lot more than all of us. Each character fills a role on the team, offering up weapons and powers that make them great for different situations.

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Hollywood, for example, is the team’s pretty boy who loves nothing more than, well, himself. He wields an assault rifle for great medium range damage, and can fire a grenade from his groin—don’t ask. Then there’s Hardtack, who immediately comes across as a more narcissistic Shipwreck from GI Joe. Hardtack is a shotgunner who can take a licking and keep on…errr…shotgunning. What’s great about Agents of Mayhem is that before most missions you take on, you can choose three of the 12 characters on the roster, then switching between them on the fly. Finding a balance is often the best strategy, but depending on your style, you can specialize and go heavy offense, defense, or the like.

The game takes place primarily in Seoul, South Korea. Exploring the open world to find collectibles and side missions is critical to leveling your characters, which leads to better skills and stronger survivability stats like higher defense or health. Even moving about the world provides options, as you can utilize your powers, every character’s built-in triple jump, commandeer a car from the world, or call in one of your nitrous-outfitted Mayhem cruisers (including some with Kitt-like robot voice) should you so choose to.

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During our demo, we were able to check out five different missions. Two helped forward the story of the game as we took down high-ranking lieutenants inside Legion by blowing up basically everything in sight. Two other missions, meanwhile, were solo objectives that introduced us to new characters like Daisy, the roller derby girl with a Gatling gun and an alcohol problem (who ended up my favorite). Beating those solo missions unlocked new characters and gave us some critical backstory beats about the world and the team itself.

The last mission might’ve been the most interesting, because it was easily the most open-ended and tasked us with capturing a tower in the middle of Seoul. Capturing towers is great for experience, while also freeing areas of Seoul from Legion control. It’s a common video game activity at this point, but it definitely gave us a lot more reasons to explore the world. The mission also showed off some of the verticality of the game, as we had to climb several buildings to get to the capture point. It also highlighted the fast & frantic pace of combat, especially when swapping teammates as swarms of Legion soldiers attacked our position.

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My time with Agents of Mayhem might’ve only been a small cross section of the variety of scenarios the game promises to throw players into, but it was enough to pique my interest for sure. Its cutscenes and interstitials look like they could’ve aired as part of a Saturday morning cartoon block—with more adult themes, mind you—while the action felt like a cross between what we’ve seen before in Saints Row and something like Crackdown. There’s not as much customization as some would expect from Volition, with each character having a limited number of skins for themselves, cars, and their weapons—but that’s because the cast fits more carefully into a story that pays homage in its own weird way to a bygone era. If you ever wanted to see what might happen if GI Joe took a turn for the adult, then maybe got spliced with Archer or something along those lines, Agents of Mayhem looks like it’s ready to deliver just that in the package of a fun, open-world action game.

Agents of Mayhem is dropping on August 15 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

Rise & Shine is one of those games that almost slipped under my radar, but I’m glad it didn’t. Releasing in early-mid January is a risk sometimes, as gamers are usually still working on their holiday hauls, and reviewers like myself take the typically slow time of the year to catch up on our mountainous backlogs. Luckily for me, though, I actually eliminated my backlog early this year, and had to go searching for something else to play—leading me to this enjoyable little action-platformer.

Rise & Shine takes place on the world of Gamearth. Here, many of the great video game characters we’ve come to know and love over the years live in peace, and maintain the safety of the planet’s less-famous denizens. When the hyper-violent armies of planet Nexgen decide it’s time to invade, the forces of Gamearth are no match. Thus, a new hero must rise, and the magical gun Shine—which bestows infinite respawns—must be taken up by a new champion. In this case, it’s a young boy named Rise. Now, Rise and Shine must travel across Gamearth looking for the means to stop Nexgen’s invasion and save their world.

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While the story of Rise & Shine is pretty straightforward no matter how you look at it—kill all the bad guys, save the world—where it excels is in its unique setting, which allows the writing to both poke fun at and celebrate gaming. Rise complaining about how much it hurts each time he dies and respawns, the king’s throne being made of SNES consoles, and even the stereotypical leader of the Nexgen army offer some fun tongue-in-cheek humor that makes you want to keep pushing forward.

And there will be times you need that something to keep pushing forward, because Rise & Shine’s gameplay can be punishing. Although there are a fair amount of puzzles that bar your progress forward, none are as testing of your patience as the moments when your screen will fill with enemies and you’re forced to duck behind cover and pray. Being a child, Rise has very limited health, and will often fall after only a direct hit or two—whereas the force he is facing can fill the screen with projectiles almost like a bullet hell. It requires some trial and error before patterns become evident, and even then, Shine’s limited ammo before having to reload (you have infinite bullets, but you start with only being able to have 10 in the chamber at a time) can come back to bite you at the worst times. I personally didn’t mind that it harkens back in many ways to the early days of gaming, but the degree of difficulty will surely be an acquired taste for some.

At the very least, you’ll always look good while dying. One of Rise & Shine’s most impressive aspects is definitely its colorful, cartoony art style that pops off the screen, featuring comic book panel-style cutscenes tying everything together. The cute, rounded features of all the characters give it the aesthetic of a Saturday morning cartoon aimed at younger audiences. The stark contrast against the blood and gore from killing enemies or being killed, and the dark undertone of a planetary invasion, then made this design choice all the more striking.

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I only wish the game’s mechanics had grabbed me as forcefully as the art style did. Whether you find the gameplay difficult or not, it quickly tends to become rather one dimensional either way. Using the right stick to aim and right trigger to fire worked well enough within the parameters of an action-platformer—even one as punishing as this—but Shine only gets a couple of forced upgrades over the course of the game to go along with optional clip upgrades. These upgrades—an electric bullet to power terminals in puzzles, guided bullets to hit buttons down narrow passageways, and a grenade launcher to arc shots over barricades—are extremely situational in most cases. Sure, the electric bullets can also be effective against robots, but I found myself defaulting back to my original bullets most of the time. And, with no real powers in regards to Rise, dodging and shooting the same handful of enemies became tiresome after awhile, especially when failing in those trial-and-error shooting scenarios.

Rise & Shine also has the unfortunate distinction of being another Indie game that just feels like it ends abruptly. Three hours into the game, it felt like the bottom fell out, and that I was only scratching the surface of what Gamearth had to offer. It also made certain sections of the adventure, like the barrage of mini-games on “NPC Island,” feel all the more random and out of place. Sure, it could be going back to that overarching commentary on games of this ilk in general, but it didn’t change the fact that because of the compact nature of the game, elements like this felt like they came out of left field.

Even with these rough edges, though, I found I enjoyed most of my time with Rise & Shine. I would’ve loved a longer, more thorough visit to Gamearth, but its strong writing, attractive art style, and solid—if not shallow—gameplay were more than enough to keep me going until I had turned Rise into a hero worthy of carrying Shine. Now, excuse me as I try to go figure out how to build my own throne out of SNES consoles.

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Publisher: Adult Swim Games • Developer: Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 01.13.17
7.0
Rise & Shine isn’t the deepest action-platformer you’ll ever play, but the tongue-in-cheek nods to the gaming industry at large, along with its stunning art style, will push you to the finish line even when the gameplay starts to let you down.
The Good Visually arresting and smartly written.
The Bad Mechanics wear thin after some time; ending feels abrupt.
The Ugly I think I died less in Dark Souls.
Rise & Shine is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Adult Swim Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Worse than crossing the streams

I love Ghostbusters. I’ve spent probably an unhealthy amount of my life memorizing lines from the movies, collecting action figures, and watching the cartoons. And yes, before you even ask, I am a god. I even enjoyed the brand new reboot with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig—it’s not perfect, but it was surprisingly a lot of fun. So, it was nothing short of painful to have to apply our review process to Activision’s latest licensed dumpster fire based off the aforementioned reboot.

In the Ghostbusters game, the four ladies from the movie have taken their show on the road and are busting ghosts for the president in Washington D.C. However, they couldn’t just up and leave New York City defenseless incase there were any more paranormal problems. So, before they left, they recruited four brash afterlife aficionados like themselves onto the team to man the firehouse in their absence. And, wouldn’t you know it, as soon as the ladies leave, a handful of hauntings pop up.

Ghostbusters is an arcade action-shooter, done in an abstract art style reminiscent of cartoons like Extreme Ghostbusters. It works well enough, at least in terms of character design. The ghosts, ghouls, and even the ‘busters exaggerated looks and hard lines work to pop off the screen, even considering the high camera angle.

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Unfortunately, the rest of the game’s design is a disaster. The levels themselves are boring and bloated, lasting anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes, completely jettisoning the speed you’d expect from the genre—not to mention you have to traipse through the same generic graveyards, subways, and interiors the entire time. To make matters even worse, the gameplay itself is as repetitive as the level design. Each character carries three weapons: the classic proton pack, specialty guns, and grenades. This helps offer a little diversity between each character, as the shotgunner with the electric grenades has to play differently from the proton mini-gunner with the slime grenades. There are also dual proton pistols and a proton assault rifle, but once you get past the weapons, it all boils down to blasting away the same handful of enemy types after you turn every corner.

Sometimes you’ll come across a more powerful ghost who you’ll have to throw in a trap. From there, a ridiculous minigame starts, which requires you to pull in the reverse direction of the ghost and button mash for score multipliers—an idea that quickly becomes as dreary as everything else the game tasks you with. At the merciful conclusion to each stage, you tally scores and get awarded experience points that help boost the strength of your characters, but only human controlled characters can keep their points.

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When playing four-player couch co-op, this isn’t much of a problem—beyond the fact that you have four people bored out of their minds instead of one. (Misery loves company, but I’ll have to make it up to my fellow EGM crew members at some point for subjecting them to this torture.) Playing by yourself, the game is easy enough to get through, but the AI does absolutely nothing to help you out. In fact, they tend to get stuck on invisible walls more often than they do anything useful in regards to busting ghosts. From my solo and co-op play sessions, it feels like the game was balanced for one-player, since more human players speed up the push through each level (still not enough to make the experience tolerable). So, Ghostbusters doesn’t even scale difficulty for multiple players.

If all this wasn’t bad enough, it only gets worse with the story, which basically copies the movie’s plot nearly point for point. You have to catch all the ghosts the ladies let get away in the film, with only two original bosses added to flesh the game out. The boss battles are a nice change of pace, but considering it is literally hours between them, they can’t salvage what appears to have been a forcibly lengthened experience to try to quantify a ridiculous price tag.

Ghostbusters tries to channel the spirit of old-school, arcade action shooters of years past, but it fails to capture any of the fun those games are known for. Even the addition of four-player couch co-op can’t save this from being a boring mess of an experience. Ghostbusters comes off as nothing short of a lazy, hastily thrown together movie cash-in attempt that can’t satisfy even the most hardcore fans of this iconic franchise, and all copies should be locked safely away in a containment unit somewhere. Light is green, trap is clean.

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Developer: FireForge Games • Publisher: Activision • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and older • Release Date: 07.12.16
2.0
Ghostbusters is a bloated, boring piece of trash that forcibly lengthened an already miserable experience to try to justify a ridiculous price tag. We can only hope to return it forthwith to its place of origin—or the nearest parallel dimension.
The Good I don’t have to play it anymore.
The Bad It is the worst kind of licensed video game. It is a cheaply thrown together, boring, repetitive mess that isn’t worth anyone’s time.
The Ugly I think I’m starting to develop PTSD from all the awful Activision licensed games I’ve had to review over the years.
Ghostbusters is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Activision for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Mighty isn’t the word I’d use…

You will be hard-pressed to find a more rabid Mega Man fan than me. For years now, my cries to Capcom for a new game in the series have fallen on deaf ears. When Mega Man co-creator Keiji Inafune decided to leave Capcom several years ago to start his own company, and it was announced that one of his first major projects was going to be a spiritual successor to the Blue Bomber, you can imagine the joy I felt. I clearly wasn’t alone, as the Kickstarter to back the project raked in just over four million dollars. Flash-forward nearly three years later, and after countless delays, finally, Mighty No. 9 is here. And—for both better and worse—I can tell you this isn’t your daddy’s Mega Man game.

Mighty No. 9 takes place in a future that could be a result of people watching too much Battlebots. Robots do their fair share for humanity in this time, but many have the primary purpose of simply fighting in the local arena for entertainment. The most powerful of these, known as Mighty Numbers, are the brainchild of one William White. When a mysterious virus causes all the robots—including the Mighty ones—to go haywire, humanity looks ready to succumb to their new metal masters. Dr. White has one trick up his sleeve, however: Beck, his newest Mighty Number. Beck’s power allows him to assimilate other robots, and has seemingly left him immune to the virus. It’s now up to Beck—with a little help from his robot sister Call—to save the other Mighty Numbers and find a cure for this virus.

I admit, when I first started playing Mighty No. 9, I fell into the easy trap of looking for reasons why this game either could or couldn’t suffice as an entry in a series that dominated my childhood. The truth of the matter is that while there are some striking similarities—from the aforementioned story to many of the gameplay elements I’m going to speak on—Mighty No. 9 is different from Mega Man, but that alone does not lift up or condemn this title.

As a throwback to a bygone era of pinpoint platforming accuracy being a necessity, Mighty No. 9 does an admirable job of trying to scratch that nostalgic itch. Once I got over expectations and accepted the game’s mechanics for what they were—using my blaster to weaken enemies and then assimilating them by dashing through them—I found the level and enemy design to be familiar, and a bit on the bland side, but still enjoyable.

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Several new features also give the tried-and-true Mega Man formula a bit of a tune-up. All the characters in the game have voice acting, and while some are better than others (sometimes due to the writing falling flat), at the very least, Mighty No. 9 tries to offer more depth to the characters and world than Mega Man ever did. Some levels, like Call’s single stage and the lair of Mighty No. 8 (a robot named Countershade—think Search Man from Mega Man 8), try to branch out from the standard formula, giving you objectives to complete before proceeding deeper into the level.  There’s also a meta-strategy with assimilating certain enemies to give you boosts to attack, defense, and speed, and assimilating multiple enemies at once will give you score multipliers—offering surprising depth to what robots you destroy and when.

Speaking of scores, setting high scores at the end of each stage gives Mighty No. 9 a greater arcade feel than its inspiration. I used to challenge myself to speed runs of the old Mega Man games all the time, even completing Mega Man 6 in less than two hours once. Mighty No. 9 already promotes that with not needing to destroy every enemy outside of bosses, and offering up many shortcuts that take advantage of the dash mechanic. I am happy to report that my first playthrough of Mighty No. 9 only took three hours and thirteen minutes.

Unfortunately, Mighty No. 9 then begins to falter. Beating the game for the first time on Normal will then unlock harder difficulties, but it still felt easy, and Hard isn’t much better; only the Hyper and Maniac (one hit and you’re dead) difficulties really start to give your thumbs a workout. Sure, there are those insta-kill spike traps that will make every Mega Man fan grind their teeth, but Mighty No. 9 falls into a very modern trap of holding players’ hands at times when not playing those higher difficulties.

Abundant one-ups litter each level, special powers recharge on their own without items, and when you defeat a boss, the game even goes as far as to tell you what other boss is weak against that newly acquired weapon. I wouldn’t have guessed that Battalion (think Mega Man 10’s Commando Man) was weak against Cryosphere’s (Ice Man, Blizzard Man, or any other cold combatant from over the years) powers until the game offered that up to me, and once that cat is out of the bag, it’s really hard to forget. The only thing worse about the special powers is not assigning the trigger buttons to easily switch between them all on the fly like in later Mega Man games.

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Mighty No. 9 also has a couple technical issues, the worst of which is the horrendous load times. Whether waiting for a reload after dying, switching in-between levels, going into or out of cutscenes, or even just opening the menu, Mighty No. 9 spends as much time loading as it does allowing you to play. Considering how long this game has been in development, and how much it actually should need to load, the amount of time players will spend waiting for something to happen is atrocious. We’re not talking Skyrim size worlds here, folks.

There are also challenge, co-op, and versus modes in the game, most of which are blamed for the game’s countless delays. Unsurprisingly, these modes feel mailed-in at best. Challenge mode offers up a variety of single-player time trials and target quotas that will test your skills in no way close to the way the main game does. Co-op allows a second player to join in and play as Call in a similar set of lackluster objectives and levels. And finally, there is Race Mode, where players can compete directly against a friend in the game’s levels for the same objectives. Not a bad idea, but I’d rather just be put in an arena against a buddy at that point along with a roster of the Mighty Numbers, and duke it out the old fashioned way. Besides, you’ve already got leaderboards for scores and times in the other modes, so Race Mode seems redundant.

Mighty No. 9 had some big metal shoes to fill, and nothing short of the hopes of an older gaming generation on its shoulders. Beck and company may still be in the shadow of the Blue Bomber after this first adventure, but although not perfect, this isn’t a bad start. Mighty No. 9 might be a little easy, a little short, and have side modes that are absolute wastes of time, but the core is solid, and there’s definite room for growth and improvement that will at least keep me from calling Capcom so often anymore.

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Developer:  Comcept, Inti Creates • Publisher: Deep Silver • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 06.21.16
7.5
Mighty No. 9 has a strong gameplay core that isn’t better or worse than Mega Man—it’s just different. The further the game deviates from that core, however, the worse it becomes.
The Good It takes time to get used to the dash mechanic to defeat enemies, but once you do, you realize the game is really well designed around it.
The Bad Challenge, co-op, and versus modes are wastes of time; surprisingly long load times.
The Ugly All that mighty number family drama.
Mighty No. 9 is available on Xbox One, PS4, PC, Wii U, Xbox 360, and PS3, with 3DS and PS Vita versions coming later. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review copy was provided by Deep Silver for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

A dose of déjà vu

Like many gamers my age, I grew up with a bevy of great and quirky titles developed by Rare. What I didn’t realize until I sat down with Rare Replay—a celebratory compilation of 30 games developed by the company since its inception in the mid-80s—though, was how much they grew up right alongside me. From thumb-numbing affairs like R.C. Pro-Am for the NES to more refined efforts for the Xbox 360 like Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Rare Replay is a magnificent showcase of one of gaming’s more beloved developers and how they’ve evolved over the years.

At its core, something like Rare Replay is admittedly nostalgia driven. While reviewing the collection, hours flew by in the blink of an eye as I rediscovered titles like Cobra Triangle (my personal first Rare game from 1989) and Battletoads. And in many cases, the games played just as well now as they did back in the day, with muscle memory taking over after only a few moments—which wasn’t really all that hard considering I only had to remember two buttons usually.

Rare Replay even touts an awesome “behind-the-scenes” series of never-before-seen interviews and features that are unlocked the more you play. These fun “Rare Revealed” unlockables give you insight into your favorite titles and how they came to be, and why certain creative decisions were made—like how Conker became the foul-mouthed squirrel we now know and love, or what the genesis of Battletoads really was.

Of course, even while being swept up in the memories of my childhood and teens, it quickly became evident that not every game in the compilation stood the test of time. My rose-colored glasses cracked a bit in particular when playing Killer Instinct Gold or Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, but that’s also to be expected to a degree when covering such a large swath of gaming history.

Where Rare Replay shines brightest, however, isn’t just in how it lets you take a stroll down memory lane. Since it’s unlikely most people have played every title in this compilation, the best moments are really when you discover a game you might’ve missed the first time around. Suddenly, you have another favorite in your gaming library, even if it’s coming from a game older than you are. In my case, that game was 1983’s Jetpac—technically developed by Rare’s eventual founders Tim and Chris Stamper and not the studio itself—that kicks off the collection with some classic early-80s arcade action.

Now, it would’ve been easy enough for Rare to just pull these games together and call it a day, but Rare Replay tries to offer up a slice of originality, too, in the form of the game’s “Snapshots.” All of Rare’s older titles come with five Snapshots—mini-challenges from a specific slice of each game—that will put a player’s skills to the test. Whether it’s defeating a boss without losing a life, earning a high score in less than a minute, or cumulatively playing a game for a certain amount of time over your career, the Snapshots try to offer up something new to pull you back into the NES era if you need some prompting.

While an interesting idea, I would’ve loved for Snapshots to be more varied. You’ll always have a cumulative one, a high score one, a combat challenge, and then maybe a couple that are more specific towards the given game. The most curious decision with Snapshots comes from the fact that not every game has them, though, and they stop altogether once you reach the N64 generation of Rare’s library. If Rare was going to try to implement something new, they should’ve done so uniformly throughout Rare Replay.

And the same goes for a special “Replay” feature in those older games. Similar to the “Rewind” option you see in games like Forza, by pressing the LT button you can actually replay the last few seconds of your game to avoid losing a life and keep going for that high score. A novel idea—even if it somewhat defeats the purpose of those older arcade games—but it’s only available in the older Rare titles.

As fun and as nostalgia-driven as this collection may be, Rare Replay is actually about a lot more than just Rare’s history. A more subtle benefit of the collection may be how it helps pave the way for the highly anticipated backwards compatibility for Xbox One. While you’re downloading and installing the bulk of the collection, separate downloads then start for games that were on the Xbox 360 like Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power, and more. It ends up being nine separate Xbox 360 downloads, plus the Rare Replay collection of the remaining 21 games for 10 downloads total.

The one downside to this is, for the time being, you can only access the Xbox 360 games via Rare Replay, which acts as a sort of emulator launcher—even though each game takes up space separately on your hard drive (close to 50GB for all 10 downloads). That’s supposed to change when backwards compatibility fully comes to Xbox One sometime this fall, and in the meantime, if there are Xbox 360 games you don’t want, you can delete them apart from the main collection. At the very least, the transition between Xbox One and Xbox 360 is quick and relatively smooth after the first time you try it, and by simply holding the menu button, you can switch back to Rare Replay and the Xbox One whenever you want.

Rare Replay is a tremendous collection of great games that show how integral Rare has been to game development for the past 30 years. It may not offer up a lot that’s new gaming-wise, and it may lack some of the company’s biggest hits due to licensing issues (most notably Goldeneye 007 and the Donkey Kong Country series), but there’s plenty here that should still be celebrated. If you’re a Rare fan, there’s no better way to do so than with this compilation.

Developer: Rare Ltd. • Publisher: Microsoft • ESRB: E – Everyone to M – Mature (varies by game) • Release Date: 08.04.15
8.0
A great collection of classic games. Whether you’ve been a fan of Rare for three years or for thirty, there’s something here for everyone, with plenty of gems waiting to be discovered for the first time.
The Good Whether a Rare game junkie or a relative newcomer to their brand, everyone should find something to enjoy.
The Bad Snapshots don’t provide a lot of variety and aren’t available for all titles. Not every game stands the test of time.
The Ugly Even after nearly 25 years, I still can’t beat the Clinger-Winger stage in Battletoads. Damn you, Hypno-Ball!
Rare Replay is a Xbox One exclusive. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare was nothing short of a surprise hit. Turning the ever-popular Plants vs Zombies into a third-person shooter was risky at best, and downright insane at worst. But the folks at PopCap take pride in their willingness to push their supremely popular franchise in different directions and see what will take root with their growing fanbase. So, when it came time to decide what to do next, they decided to turn things on their ear again and make the Plants the bad guys.

That’s right, in Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, the Zombies are on the defensive. After the events of the first Garden Warfare, the Zombies have successfully conquered Suburbia, renamed it Zomburbia, and set about making it a perfect little paradise where they can munch on brains all day long. The Plants may be down, but they are far from out, so they’ve enlisted the aid of new allies to take the fight back to the Zombies and reclaim their beloved home soil.

While this may not change much about modes such as Team Vanquish (PvZ’s version of Team Deathmatch), it completely reverses modes like Gardens and Graveyards. With Zombies on the defensive and trying to protect capture points, you’ll need to figure out new strategies with your favorite classes from the last game to be effective as a Plant or a Zombie. Also, because you play this four-player co-op version of Horde mode from the perspective of the Zombies versus AI-controlled Plants, Garden Ops has been renamed Graveyard Ops.

Besides the change in viewpoints, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is bigger than its predecessor in every way imaginable. The game will ship with more maps at launch, all of which are brand new. Zomboss has tried his best to mold Suburbia in his own image, changing the entire world’s landscape. In our short time with the game, the we played a multi-tiered level that featured Zomboss Zombie’s making a factory, a clear tactical target for the Plants to attack.

The game also offers new classes, including some inspired by the time-traveling aspects of the mobile Plants vs Zombies 2. Plants from the future have come back to quell the threat of Zombie-piloted mech suits, and Zombie pirate captains enter the fray as surprisingly effective snipers. A Zombie superhero specializes in melee and shooting laser beams from his eyes.

So, if you were a fan of the first Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, its sequel looks ready to deliver a deeper, over-the-top experience in the same vein that has made Plants vs Zombies such a huge hit.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 will launch in the spring of 2016 for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC.

No school like the old school

When compared to some of the EGM Crew, I’m admittedly kind of slow on the Indie uptake. Something that helps motivate me to take notice of the latest Indie darling that’s burning up the popular forums, though, is when it’s dripping with nostalgia from my 2D-game upbringing. The latest offering that fits that bill is a result of the one-man development wrecking crew that is Thomas Happ and Axiom Verge.

The action-adventure shooter puts players in the lab coat of a scientist named Trace. When one of his experiments accidentally triggers an explosion in the lab, Trace is knocked unconscious. Upon waking up, he finds himself on an alien world that proves to be quite hostile—and he has no recollection of what happened after the blast. Trace must now explore this unfamiliar landscape in the hopes to not only piece together his fractured memory but also find a way back home.

Trace’s story isn’t the centerpiece of Axiom Verge, though. In fact, it’s far from it. I only ever got small nibbles of the carrot that is solving the issue of Trace’s mysterious appearance on this alien planet, and many questions remained unanswered in the process of my playthrough. Normally, this would have me pulling my hair out. I’d be ready to come up with any number of loose connections to fit together what little plot I came across, filling in the blanks and creating a coherent timeline in my mind as best I could. Instead, Axiom Verge reminded me time and again, through its novel twists on stereotypical gaming devices and old-fashioned design, that the story is never the focus here—it’s always on the gameplay.

Axiom Verge is like a love letter to the original Metroid. It’s exploration tempered by a healthy dose of shooting all kinds of alien life-forms with a pinch of platforming, a wide assortment of weapons, and just enough narrative hooks to keep pushing you forward. Collecting a cornucopia of items that would open up more of the ever-expanding map, lengthening Trace’s health bar, or beefing up the various bioweapon blasters he comes across was a thrill as I watched my completion percentage climb. Deducing the patterns of gargantuan bosses with pixel precision became more and more of an obsession as I played, flashing me back to my childhood and the great gun battles of my gaming glory days. This is as solid a gameplay base as it gets.

In some aspects, however, Axiom Verge tries too hard to stay true to its gaming roots, and it could’ve take a page from other modern games in the genre to deliver a more pleasant overall experience. A prime example? The map system. The game would’ve been well served to include some sort of marker feature that I could’ve used to remind me the location of items I missed or areas I wanted to explore so that I could more efficiently plan my paths—especially considering the sheer size of the world.

A fast-travel system would’ve been welcome as well, because once I reached the 12-hour mark and collected around 80 percent of the items, I got really tired of schlepping back and forth across a map that features more than 700 unique rooms, gunning down the same enemies over and over. In fact, I pushed forth with the endgame sequence before hitting that magical 100-percent mark to prevent what had been a wonderful adventure up to that point from starting to feel like too much of a grind.

To that end, I realized that Axiom Verge truly shines when it breaks away from the restraints of the past it emulates and instead builds on top of those gameplay foundations. For instance, one of the most powerful weapons you get early on in your adventure is best described as a “glitch gun.” Firing its waves of distinctive radiation at walls comprised entirely of blocks of retro texture glitches from games of yesteryear will reveal new paths or items. Lambasting enemies with this gun, though, can have a wide array of effects—they might turn friendly toward Trace or simply become easier to defeat. When under the influence of the glitch gun, some enemies even open up new pathways; unwitting foes barrel through obstacles that would be indestructible by any other means. Taking an unwelcome by-product of past hardware limitations and development issues and turning it into a critical game component only encouraged more experimentation with each new room I entered, and it was a welcome twist on traditional 2D exploration.

The gameplay twists don’t end with just the weapons, though. You can use many items to bypass barriers—years of gaming experience has ingrained in us the need to hit a switch or acquire a key to make areas accessible, but that’s not the case here. Axiom Verge goes out of its way to remind you of the multitude of tools that open up the paths before you.

While on the subject of all those tools, though, Happ may have gone a little overboard in regards to how many items he crammed into Axiom Verge. One of the other reasons I gave up on that 100-percent run was that it dawned on me about halfway through my playthrough that a lot of weapons and items are useless. I’d say three-quarters of the guns are style over substance and offer little to no value in terms of furthering your exploration or combat proficiency.

And if you get stuck at any point—like I did toward the end of the game before finally figuring out one particular obstacle—and start doing literal laps around the world trying to figure out where to go next, it’s pretty damn frustrating when you stumble upon a secret room that you think may finally push things forward. Instead, you get a completely useless gun. It makes the otherwise tight design come off a bit haphazard, whereas the best Metroid-like games have a laser focus and no real overabundance of anything, especially when it comes to the weapons.

Working in the shadow of something as massive as Metroid and other games of that ilk is no easy task, though, and Axiom Verge does more than enough to earn its place among them. It manages to work within its limitations and still innovate in subtle-but-effective ways. Even with its classic motif, a little modern polish would’ve gone a long way, but it’s hard for me to be anything but immensely satisfied and impressed with Axiom Verge as a whole.

Developer: Tom Happ • Publisher: Tom Happ • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.31.15
8.0
A wonderful throwback to a bygone era, Axiom Verge’s focus on classic gameplay provides a welcome change of pace, even if it could’ve benefitted from a hint of modern design.
The Good Old-school side-scrolling shooter action and exploration that could give Samus Aran a run for her money.
The Bad Too many useless weapons; the desperate need for a fast-travel system.
The Ugly Uruku, the giant, gun-toting slug boss.
Axiom Verge is available on PS4, with PS Vita and PC versions coming later. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review.

Hell ain’t a bad place to be

The twin-stick shooter is one of gaming’s oldest game types—and one of the hardest to make stand out among its contemporaries, especially given the genre’s recent resurgence in the Indie scene. Helldivers unique metagame feature, though, helps separate what would otherwise be a rather generic game from the pack.

Helldivers puts players in control of a run-of-the-mill soldier fighting for the glory of the unified Super-Earth. Ruled under one “managed democracy”, the inhabitants of Super-Earth feel it’s their duty to expand and spread the message of this way of life to all they come across in the universe. Several races, however, wish to stand in the way of Super-Earth’s all-powerful government, so conflict erupts on an intergalactic scale.

It’s here where the metagame aspect takes place. Besieged on three fronts, the Helldivers branch of Super-Earth’s military must perform missions on a series of planets, pushing each enemy race back across several sectors of space, until finally reaching a homeworld in the hopes of conquering it.

Each respective planet in those sectors is procedurally generated, which means that you’ll never play the same mission on the same terrain twice. The game offers almost a dozen different random missions types no matter the planet, such as demolishing enemy fortifications or setting up and protecting oil pumps to help support the war effort. Combine this with the dozen different difficulty rankings among the planetsfrom Level 1’s “Dive in the Park” to Level 12’s “Helldive”and Helldivers features possibly the most variation you’ll find in a top-down, twin-stick shooter. Only when everyone pitches in to successfully complete missions can you make any real progress in the campaign.

The idea of working together to win goes well beyond just Helldivers’ metagame, though. With four-player local and online co-op, it’s easy for players to team up with friends or strangers to tackle the game’s objectives. Unfortunately, you’ll be forced to if you want to have any hope of completing the hardest difficulty levels. I found it impossible to beat anything beyond a Level 4 difficulty by myself, and we couldn’t beat anything past a Level 6 without a full four-player complement of Helldivers.

It was here where I found myself the most frustrated, as often, I couldn’t find enough players to successfully conquer the game’s hardest terrain and objectives. Sometimes, I couldn’t find enough players willing to take on the Level 12 worlds and was forced to muck about in the lower-level ones. Even though they’re procedurally generated, locations started to feel simple and repetitive as I quickly mastered the necessary techniques to use to finish my missions. The lack of an option to play with botsand allow me to play how I wanted to playmade the game feel way too reliant on co-op, and I found my progress severely restricted by who was or wasn’t online.

Of course, sometimes even when I found a full group of players, the mission would still be doomed from the start. Similar to Arrowhead Game Studios’ first project, Magicka, friendly fire is a constant threat and can’t be turned off. This does offer an extra nuance to the game’s substantial inherent difficulty when you find a competent team of people who want to work together, but someone with an itchy trigger finger who wasn’t the greatest team player would often ruin the mission for us. We could’ve booted them, but then we’d be back to being down a person in a game that doesn’t lend itself well to fewer than four players.

If you can get that right mix of players together, though, Helldivers provides a memorable twin-stick-shooter experience. Whether it’s the unusually fleshed-out universe for this type of game—including Super-Earth’s propaganda being pumped across the news feed in your home base and a full encyclopedia’s worth of baddie rundowns—or the responsive controls, Helldivers shows the potential of how great this ancient gaming genre can still be, even on modern consoles.

There’s also a strong strategic element that you don’t always see in shooters like this. Figuring out where to drop in pre-mission and which objectives to tackle first were often just as important as working well as a team. Sure, there were moments when one player would have to act as a decoy to expose the weak point on the rear of a tank enemy, and without that teamwork, the day would’ve been lost. But dropping in away from known enemy encampments, using the terrain to protect one side when defending a point, or just bringing the right gun to the fight were as critical as working well with other players.

And while Helldivers may be classified as a twin-stick shooter, there’s also more to the gameplay than just pointing and shooting at one of the three alien races. The game incorporates several RPG elements into the experience to help your individual character still feel unique enough among the thousands of other faceless soldiers.

Each Helldiver is mildly customizable, with a handful of different armor pieces given to you at the start, and more can be unlocked as you level up. The armor is purely cosmetic, though, and actually, so is the process of leveling up. The game doesn’t offer any stat boosts—not even for HP. All you can get is a new gun, cosmetic armor piece, or access to a harder set of worlds.

The real rewards for playing the game actually come from conquering planets, which allow you to earn new Stratagemsthe equivalent of special powers. Each Helldiver can carry four into battle, and these could be as simple as calling in an ammo drop or as game-changing as having a vehicle, turret, or mech-battle armor delivered in order to help turn the tide of a battle or beat a hasty retreat. The Stratagems add some real diversity to the gameplay, and being able to utilize them at opportune times often means the difference between defeat and victory.

And since the balance relies so much on four-player co-op, that means the best Stratagems are unlocked mostly behind the game’s hardest worlds. These are easily the most interesting part of customizing your character, but tying them to planets instead of levels makes the RPG elements feel somewhat worthless.

I found issue with how much of Helldivers’ accessibility and difficulty is balanced for the four-player co-op experiencewhen, realistically, it’s not the easiest thing for everyone to pull off. If you’re fortunate enough to have that tight-knit co-op crew you can always go to, Helldivers is one of the better top-down, twin-stick shooters I’ve seen in a while.

Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.03.15
7.0
Helldivers’ metagame campaign and variety of gameplay are more than enough to keep you entertained, but only players with a tight-knit group of co-op buddies will be able to get the most from the experience.
The Good The metagame aspect makes you feel more like an actual soldier in an army, working toward a greater goal.
The Bad Tacked-on RPG elements; lack of AI bot options.
The Ugly Getting ambushed by alien bugsbut you’re too distracted by twirling your cape around to fight back.
Helldivers is available on PS4, PS3, and PS Vita. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review.

Back to the Beginning

If there is one thing the Resident Evil series is good at, it’s embracing its past and squeezing every possible scenario out of it to continue fleshing out the back-story for this beloved series. With that idea in mind, Capcom gives us Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Taking place at the same time as Resident Evil 2, you play as one of six members of Umbrella’s elite hit squad called the U.S.S. (Umbrella Security Service) whose sole task is to ensure that any illegal incidents that could shine a bad light onto Umbrella never come to surface. And Raccoon City is as bad as it gets. So you’ve been covertly inserted into the city to make sure the B.O.W.s do their job and no survivors or information get out before things in Raccoon are cleaned up.

For as much good as RE: ORC does at times, it does just as much bad unfortunately. There are seven campaign missions that you can play with up to three friends online, but the fact there is no option for a local split-screen campaign or versus modes is a big fault in my book. The story mode lacks a lot of the character development and overall depth that we’re used to seeing, but it still feels really fun to progress through this special mission as this badass unit and take down all these zombies and creatures that we’ve seen in previous titles, like Lickers or Hunters, with controls that are more suited to the action game this is clearly trying to be. Of course, some hardcore fans may not enjoy the fact this game distances the series from its survival-horror roots, but I had a lot of fun with it and so was able to forgive them for going off the reservation this time around.

The game also has six very different main characters or classes, which gives you a nice bit of variety if you want to try them all out. Unfortunately, the game only supports four players at a time in campaign and four-on-four matches in versus though. And having more people allowed to play would definitely be the way to go because if you see how often the friendly A.I. suicides itself in the campaign, you’ll want as many of your friends around as possible.

The controls are also hit or miss. While the gunplay is very good, with dozens of weapon and power unlockables and upgrades, the cover system is flawed due to it not being button prompted, but is just initiated whenever you press up against a flat surface. The melee combat is also solid as you perform character specific combos, and if you have enough energy, a character specific execution move that can instantly take out your opponents. There is also a running tackle though that makes no sense because it really does no damage and if you miss your target, it takes so long for your character to get back up that you’re nothing but a sitting duck.

The clear saving grace for this game though is the multiplayer. Four different modes that pit you not only against another team, but also random B.O.W.s and zombies in each level. Think of them as the ultimate level hazards. The four modes include your standard team deathmatch, a ‘Heroes’ mode where you pick a classic character from the series up to this point and you can keep respawning until all four heroes have been killed once, a ‘Biohazard’ mode which is your basic capture the flag, and a ‘Survival’ mode where you have to beat back the enemy team and various creatures as you wait for a helicopter to extract you. What’s most fun about ‘Survival’ is there is only one helicopter and only four seats available so half the players will lose and often there will be a mix and match of teams that make it out as once that helicopter lands, it is every man for himself.

When all is said and done, I think a lot of third-person shooter fans and Resident Evil fans will enjoy what Operation Raccoon City is trying to do with a really fun multiplayer and a decent campaign that is worth a couple of quick playthroughs. The game looks and sounds great, although I still can’t believe Capcom didn’t come up with more than a handful of zombie skins, and most importantly is fun more often than not. Some more polish on the controls, ally A.I., and a local multiplayer option would have definitely kicked this game up a notch, but as is, it is worth a look to fans of shooter multiplayer modes and Resident Evil.

SUMMARY: Another unique look at the events of the original Resident Evil outbreak combined with a fun and inventive multiplayer should help Resident Evil fans look past the sometimes clunky controls and poor ally A.I.

  • THE GOOD: Fun multiplayer modes and a unique take on the classic Resident Evil story
  • THE BAD: Poor ally A.I., no local multiplayer options, and clunky controls
  • THE UGLY: That Capcom is still using the same five zombie skins since the series launched 16 years ago

SCORE: 7.0

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.

Robots Hate Your Freedom

Very rarely can you gather the entire concept of a game just from the title alone. But publisher Ubisoft’s and developer Demiurge’s Shoot Many Robots does just that as the title simply says it all. You play as P. Walter Tugnut, a redneck who has been stockpiling weapons and beer for years in his RV just waiting for the robot apocalypse. And then one day it actually happens. After destroying his beloved pick-up truck, Tugnut knows his day has come to Shoot…Many…Robots.

As soon as I started playing the game, I felt like I had been transported back to a childhood arcade where I was still feeding quarters into Metal Slug as I was given this somewhat cartoony, but still modern enough looking hero, with a bevy of weapons and an even larger horde of enemies to take on in classic side-scrolling fashion. And when I say there is a large horde of enemies, I’m easily talking 20-30 robots on screen at once, and 200-300 robots per level. And I used everything from conventional weapons like assault rifles and bazookas to some more sci-fi inspired weaponry like freeze guns, to grind the gears of these gyro driven automatons into dust.

An interesting dynamic thrown into the entire game though is an RPG-like leveling up system where Tugnut could unlock new weaponry and armor that allowed him to slide, double jump farther, carry more health restoring beer, or, of course, do tons more damage. This reward system helped keep the game play satisfying as you mowed down the metal monstrosities.

Unfortunately, even with these unique features throw into the old-school side-scrolling dynamic that Shoot Many Robots gives us, it can get monotonous as you work through three or four stages per level and you just keep taking down the same robots over and over again for the most part. The look and sound of the game is rather dull and lacks the vibrancy you’d prefer in this kind of game to help keep your senses stimulated considering the monotonous game play. And with no real story to tie everything together, this is more a true arcade game in every sense, but this could turn off players who prefer a deeper experience.

There were also times where I wish I could upgrade the individual weapons with laser sights or other goodies as the aiming function was clumsy at best. More often than not I found myself trying to jump or slide into a better position, or use the bullet reflecting melee technique, rather than aiming as I couldn’t tell half the time where I was shooting.

There is also a steep difficulty curve with Shoot Many Robots as after the first couple of levels the robotic horde gets to the point where they can easily surround and start to engulf you. Mid-chapter checkpoints do help alleviate frustration in many instances, but it seems whenever a new foe or environmental hazard is introduced, you will likely meet your doom as you try to figure out what to do about them while still beating back the blade-wielding ankle biters that make up the majority of the robotic force as the game just keeps throwing more and more bad guys your way and barely gives you a chance to breath.

Aside from the mid-chapter checkpoints, the game does have another arcade staple fortunately that can assist you as well and that is 4-player co-op. Having three of your friends come on board so you can have a redneck death dealing parade and leave a swath of robot carcasses in your wake does help a lot and co-op like this always makes this style of game a better experience in the long run.

Still, I think that even with its strong positives and nostalgia inspiring experience that Shoot Many Robots is best served in short, but fun doses. This doesn’t seem like the kind of game you’ll sit down for three consecutive hours for. Instead, maybe just grabbing a friend for 30 minutes before tackling a more hardcore game seems to be the right speed for this title. But if old-school side-scrolling arcade shoot ‘em ups are your thing, Shoot Many Robots definitely hits all the right buttons considering it’s $10 (800 MSP) price tag.

SUMMARY: A frantic side-scrolling shooter reminiscent of classics like Metal Slug that may become tiresome in long intervals, but is more than enjoyable in short bursts.

  • THE GOOD: Fun, frantic action in an old-school arcade style
  • THE BAD: Even mindless mayhem can get tedious at some point
  • THE UGLY: Rednecks with guns are always a scary proposition

SCORE: 8.0

Shoot Many Robots is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA), PS3 (PSN), and PC. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.