Tag Archive: Xbox One


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.

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.

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.

Great ideas are born all the time in the video game industry, but not all of them reach fruition—and fewer still achieve their fullest potential. It seems Ubisoft’s For Honor, at least at this moment in time, falls into the latter category of a game that just isn’t where it needs to be. After conquering the campaign and playing well over 100 multiplayer matches over the past week since it’s launch, I’m sorry to say that For Honor just seems to be another in what is becoming Ubisoft’s calling card of the past several years: a tremendous idea that falls short due to lackluster or questionable technical execution.

For Honor puts players in a fantasy world that mashes up regions and time periods, placing three of the world’s greatest factions of warriors together on one limited landmass. Samurai, Knights, and Vikings fight in perpetual war over scarce resources in this fictitious world, unwittingly serving as pawns in the plans of Apollyon, a particularly ruthless black knight who feels that only in war can people maximize their abilities.

The campaign takes you through each of the three faction camps as you begin to piece together Apollyon’s plot. There are 18 chapters (six for each group), and all told the campaign shouldn’t take more than 4-6 hours to finish. There’s some replayability here, with collectibles and multiple difficulty levels (including the hardest “Realistic” difficulty that completely removes your HUD), but not much else. It’s also a bit on the repetitive side, with occasional surprises to keep you pushing forward, but what serves as the brightest spot for the campaign is that it is an excellent teaching tool. As a de facto proving ground, it gives you plenty of opportunities to test strategies and learn more advanced combos with particular classes against the computer before you take those skills into the online world.

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One glaring flaw with the campaign, though, is the fact that if one of its major purposes is as a way to familiarize yourself with the game’s 12 distinct characters and it’s unique combat system in a safer offline setting, then it should give you an opportunity to play as all of the character choices. Only eight of the 12 are featured in the campaign, with the Berseker (Vikings), Conqueror (Knights), Shugoki (Samurai), and Nobushi (Samurai) being exempt.

Though, it could argue that some of these class styles are covered in other chapters. For example, the Vikings’ Warlord—who does get his own chapter—is classed as a heavy, which Shugoki and Conqueror also both fall under. However, there are enough differences between each choice and their playstyles that not being able to figure out how to fit playable sections for all 12 characters into 18 chapters—especially when many campaign chapters have all the characters in them already as NPCs—is bothersome. For example, the Nobushi has probably the most range of any character in the game (plus some attacks that can poison an enemy), while the Shugoki is the only character that can actually absorb a hit without flinching—but you need to experiment in multiplayer to find all that out. You can play the online modes against AI to get some experience with characters, and I admit that For Honor’s bots are some of the most intelligent you’re likely to find in any online game, but I believe that wrapping your training around a story and a tutorial increases your retention of learned skills, as opposed to just button mashing against a bot that falls into predictable patterns.

A big reason why it’s particularly frustrating having to learn characters in multiplayer, instead of more ideally just honing and mastering your skills against humans, is For Honor’s aforementioned combat system. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic system, but it has a steep learning curve and can be incredibly complex at times. The core of For Honor is three-way directional blocking/attacking. If you are swinging from the left, and your foe blocks in that direction, nothing happens; if they leave themselves open, you do damage. It looks like a simple third-person hack ‘n’ slash mechanic, but once you get past this, you’ll find there’s more to this game—and, again, each character’s specific nuances only diversify and add wonderful depth to the gameplay. Throws, stuns, parries, specials, and unblockable attacks all must be learned if you’re to have any success in campaign or online. The beauty of it, though, is how all of this plays off that initial mechanic, which requires you to lock onto an opponent in one-on-one “honorable” combat while trying to predict their movements.

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Combat is like a miniature chess game, with strategies forming and coming undone in an instant as your strikes hit, miss, or are blocked by your mark. Even positioning on the field, with one-hit kill obstacles like spikes or ledges, play into the combat, requiring you take in far more information than just which direction your opponent is blocking. I honestly couldn’t get enough of it all, and found my adrenaline pumping during the thrill of combat, screaming into my headset as cowards ran away from my Raider’s axe. (Of course, it also makes it frustrating to learn on the fly when your K/D may be on the line.)

There are some flaws to combat, though. While the game is surprisingly well balanced—with a smart player able to overcome most any other character’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses—there are those infuriating moments when it looks like the game’s physics or hit detection isn’t where it needs to be. A perfect example is when trying to throw someone off a ledge; a great way to overcome situations where you are outnumbered. Sometimes, a character will barely clip the edge of a rock or wall, and slam up against it as if a full support was there, saving the person from going over the edge and potentially falling to their doom. Or, you’ll get situations where a thrown body lands with half of it not on solid ground. You’d expect the body to slide off the edge—since that’d be the natural result—but instead the character just stands up as if their body had been fully supported. It reminds me of the original Super Mario Bros. way back in the day; as long as you had just one pixel of edge, Mario would never fall off. It’s not nearly as charming here, and definitely breaks immersion and draws my ire.

The crux of For Honor, though, is of course the multiplayer, which I’ve touched on briefly already a couple of times. The first thing everyone has to take part in is the War of the Factions. Similar to what was seen in Mortal Kombat X’s Faction War, as soon as you start the game, you choose one of the three factions to align yourself with for the entirety of a season (this doesn’t limit what characters you can play as, to be clear). By playing online you’ll earn war assets, and the better you perform, the more assets you’ll receive. Unlike MKX, you’ll get to personally assign where your assets go as you try to move the front lines of a never-ending assault against the other two factions on a satellite view of the game’s map. The faction that has procured the most land at the end of the season will receive special in-game bonuses. You can also change your faction mid-season, but at the penalty of lost rewards at the end of the season. Surprisingly, it’s one of the more addictive features of For Honor, as it gives players a sense of actually taking part in a living, breathing conflict.

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Then there are five different game modes under three different umbrellas. In Deathmatch, you’ll find the 4v4 single-life-to-live Elimination mode and the point-based Skirmish mode, where you can respawn until the opposing team reaches 1000 points (where points are awarded on a variety of factors, but killing human opponents always racks up the biggest points). Then there are the Duels, offering up 1v1 matchups and 2v2 Brawls, and which I personally recommend you start off with since they’re a great way to hone you skills. Finally, there is the 4v4 Dominion mode, which combines the point scoring of Skirmish with capturing zones like you’d see in a Domination mode for other games.

Although there are only a few maps, sections of each one are cordoned off depending on the mode you’re playing, and each map has multiple times of day available to offer some visual variety. The game is also graphically stunning as a whole; the detail of each character and the world around you is absolutely breathtaking, and makes you feel at times like you’re in a real medieval fantasy. For Honor’s customization is also something that should be lauded. While each character’s face is a given, you can change the sex of most characters (some are permanent female or male), earn ornaments, victory poses, and executions, and each character’s weapons and armor, piece by piece, can be changed out or given new paint and pattern schemes. It’s just enough personalization to make you stand out on the battlefield while making sure you still come across as your character class. Of course, it needs to be mentioned that a lot of items are locked away behind certain achievements or the game’s “steel” currency, but many of these can be bypassed by buying resources through microtransactions. This isn’t necessary, since you can easily grind for a lot of items, and most of them are cosmetic anyway, but that’s entirely up to you.

Despite the issues I’ve already laid out, when For Honor works, it works supremely well. When For Honor doesn’t work, though, it’s one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had to date with an Ubisoft game. While the campaign was mostly issue-free, there have been tremendous connectability issues with the game since launch. In fact, part of the reason I’m so late with this review is that I tried to see if these issues would work themselves out or if we’d get a patch of some kind. Even as recent as last night, however, I was still seeing matches drop and disconnect on a regular basis—if I could even connect in the first place. As I stated at the start of the review, over the past week I’ve played and finished well over 100 matches—there was probably another 200 times, though, where the match would never connect or drop midway through.

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If this weren’t bad enough, because For Honor doesn’t have dedicated servers, not only does the game suffer frequently from lag, but every time someone else drops, the entire game freezes up, as it often has to re-instance. Half the time, it is unable to, and boots the remaining players back to the multiplayer lobby. I don’t understand how, after launching so many games in a row with shoddy or broken netcode before this, Ubisoft has yet another game—one that is so multiplayer heavy in particular and has had so many betas—come out in this condition. It’s absolutely unforgivable to launch in such a sorry state, and Ubisoft should be embarrassed.

For Honor could’ve been one of the best games of this young calendar year; instead, it’s riddled with issues, particularly on the technical side, which hold it back. It might still bounce back and become the game it has the potential to be thanks to its solid gameplay core—but if you were looking for something to play right now, I’d tell you to take a wait-and-see approach with For Honor in hopes the bugs, in particular the connectivity ones, end up getting worked out.

Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 02.14.17
7.0
An inventive premise and surprisingly deep combat system sits at the core of what could’ve been a great game—if so many technical issues didn’t surround it and detract so much from the whole of the experience.
The Good The inventive new combat system takes some getting used to, but rewards players who put the time in with it.
The Bad A litany of technical issues and questionable decisions keeps it from reaching its fullest potential.
The Ugly This is now a thing and I can’t stop watching it: For Honor—Call on Me
For Honor is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I got to guest host on Nerd Alert this week with Kim Horcher. We talked about myriad topics, including the newest love interest in Mass Effect: Andromeda!

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.

It’s extremely difficult to appease Batman fans, and I’m admitting right from the get go that I count myself amongst the most hardcore of them. It’s almost tradition now for every new version of The Dark Knight to suffer some backlash—especially from those of us who are as obsessed with Batman as he is with fighting crime. Fans of Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s original gun-wielding, rooftop leaping lunatic from the late ‘30s and early ‘40s hated Adam West’s camp-filled romps in the ‘60s. Those fans in turn disliked when the comics crafted a noir vibe and turned back towards some of Finger/Kane’s roots in the ‘70s with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ take on the character. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and Tim Burton’s film version of the Caped Crusader in the 80s all had their haters, too. So, when it finally came time for me to play Batman: The Telltale Series, I was both excited and worried about what the latest take on Batman might bring to us, knowing it would be extremely difficult for me—even though I’d like to think of myself as a more open-minded fan—to come away satisfied.

Batman: The Telltale Series is best described as a transitional adventure between “Year One” and “Year Two”. What this equates to in Batman’s history for those unfamiliar with comic book parlance is that he’s taken his lumps in that first year of crime fighting, and just now is starting to come into his own as “The Batman.” It’s also when the supervillains start to show up; classic foes like Catwoman, Penguin, Two-Face, and the Joker all make their presences felt by the end of the game, along with the traditional mobsters that Batman had to deal with in his early days. The bulk of the game’s narrative, however, centers on Bruce Wayne needing to clear his family name after a new bad guy reveals that Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s father) wasn’t the philanthropist that Gotham necessarily saw him as.

Being a Telltale game, the narrative does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of one’s enjoyment of the product—or lack thereof. And right from the start, this was a decision that started to turn my opinion sour. With writers running out of ideas now that Batman is wrapping up his eighth decade of print, the idea of questioning his origins and casting doubt on the sanctity of his purpose has been done countless times in recent years of the comics. The easiest way to do this is to attack Bruce’s parents, and I have always taken issue with this.

One of Batman’s greatest appeals is his mission; his obsession is one that we as fans mirror back onto him. He makes a vow on his parents’ graves to wage an unending war on all criminals as a child, and the fact he follows through on it and lets it dictate his life is twisted and unhealthy, but in an odd way also very pure. It’s a child lashing out against a cruel and unjust world for the love and security that was ripped away from him in a random act of violence. When you remove this, you simply have a maniac in a mask. Yes, that’s what Batman really is at his core, but you greatly lessen his appeal when you strip away one of his founding dimensions, and undo a lot of the great work that those came before had laid out. Simply put, if something isn’t broke, stop trying to fix it.

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And I understand the appeal of wanting to do it. Attacking Bruce’s family also attacks his money source—Batman’s true greatest superpower. His inherited wealth has always been Bruce’s deus ex machina, allowing him to get out of more situations than I could count no matter the era. It’s like putting Superman under a red sun; it’s a classic comic book gimmick to take our hero out of his comfort zone. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But when your powers are so closely tied to your origin like Batman’s are, it’s more apt to blow up in your face.

One thing Telltale did do a fantastic job of, though, was trying to pay homage to a lot of great Batman media over the years. The font in the title graphic evokes memories of Batman: The Animated Series, and the superb voice acting from this cast is on par with the legendary voices from that groundbreaking series. Although still well within the parameters of Telltale’s signature cel-shaded art-style, Two-Face’s design is largely based on that seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Penguin’s feels more akin to what we’ve been given on FOX’s Gotham. And, several gameplay elements like Detective Mode—more on that in a bit—borrow from Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham games. One other element that Telltale touched on from the Batman: Arkham series is taking a previously-established comic book canon character and trying to pass them off as a new villain. The worst of it, though, is this character was never a Batman villain to begin with.

This leads us to the main villain of the story, a new character dubbed Lady Arkham, which I will try to refer to as vaguely as possible to avoid giving away her true identity. Even with my distaste for the Thomas Wayne bashing, the first two episodes of Batman: The Telltale Series were actually quite compelling. When Lady Arkham reveals her true self in episode three, the series takes a marked turn for the worse. I don’t know if it comes from Batman’s license holders at Warner Brothers, or if there’s just a general fear of introducing new villains into the Batman universe outside of the comics, but the disappointment at the revelation of Lady Arkham was even worse than when we all realized within the first 15-minutes of playing Arkham Knight that our foe was Jason Todd. At least, at that point, he was a villain in the comics.

Lady Arkham’s true identity was always a close ally of Batman/Bruce Wayne, and twisting her like this felt like it was just cheap shock value for us hardcore fans who never suspected her because of our familiarity with the character. If Telltale had created an entirely new character with Lady Arkham, keeping her network seemingly as powerful as Batman’s and as long-standing as Bruce Wayne’s—but minus the preconceived notions from her true identity’s long history in Bat-media—I think she and her Children of Arkham could’ve been a welcome addition to the Rogues Gallery (in the same way Talon and the Court of Owls was a few years ago, and Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassins was in the ‘70s). As is, she feels like a throwaway character used simply to establish Telltale’s new universe while not wasting any of the classic villains, thus weakening the entire story arc as a whole.

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The series also takes a turn for the worse on the technical side of things starting around her reveal. Telltale’s game engine continues to show its age, and does so markedly as this series progresses. The first couple of episodes are mostly glitch-free, but by the time we reach episode five, the choppy cutscenes, dropped audio lines, and general lag after decisions are made make finishing the game almost a chore. I understand that Telltale prides itself on its products coming out on every playable device imaginable. At some point, however, the studio needs to take some of this licensing money and invest back into tech that is optimized for modern consoles, and stop giving us this lowest common denominator garbage.

From a gameplay perspective, the bulk of the game remains around Telltale’s iconic choose-your-own-adventure multiple-choice scenes that change character interactions and dialogue depending on the decisions you make. Some additions we haven’t seen before in a Telltale game, and some that are even exclusive to Batman: The Telltale Series, were included here, though.

Detective mode, the special lenses that paint the world in a blue hue and allows Batman to recreate crime scenes, makes an appearance here. Similar to the Batman: Arkham games, examining clues will help Batman figure out what exactly happened in and around a crime scene, and piecing things together properly will help him decide what to do next on a case. Telltale also smartly allows you to link clues together this way to make it feel more like you’re actually solving the puzzle yourself. You also use Detective mode before certain ambushes, allowing Batman to plan out how he wants to clear a room before starting the quicktime button-mashing fest that helps him to defeat thugs unscathed. It’s just different enough from the Arkham games, but it still feels very much like you’re Batman while using it, and was a pleasant surprise.

Unlike a lot of other Batman projects, this game also does a great job of balancing life as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Whereas the Bruce Wayne parts of most movies, TV shows, and even comics can lean towards the mundane, the sequences here were just as intense and action packed as those where you’re dressed as Batman. Sometimes, they were even more difficult, since you don’t want to give away your secret identity. I loved the idea of there being branching paths, and you can even choose to confront certain individuals as either Batman or Bruce Wayne, which results in the dialogue obviously changing drastically. I only wish there were more of these choices as well as more Detective mode sequences, with it feeling like there was only maybe one per episode of either of them.

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Batman: The Telltale Series had a lot of potential. There were some clever ideas, and some nice tribute Easter eggs to Bat-media of the past. Unfortunately, they aren’t enough to overcome aging, glitch-ridden technology and some weak narrative decisions in a narrative-centric experience. Therefore, it’s now time for me to try to find some Bat-Telltale repellant and see if I can’t get this game off of my bat-addled brain.

Publisher: Telltale Games • Developer: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.13.16
6.0
The bigger a Batman fan you are, the less you’re likely to enjoy Telltale’s take on The Dark Knight. Combined with the obvious age Telltale’s engine is showing, this simply isn’t their best effort.
The Good Weaves elements from so many different Batman iterations over the years into one cohesive product.
The Bad Cheap plotline twists will leave some fans unhappy. Telltale’s engine is really starting to show its age.
The Ugly Selina Kyle’s apartment. I can’t stand a messy woman.
Batman: The Telltale Series is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Telltale Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Another roster update from EA Canada came down just in time for the holiday season and saw the most changes yet for players in NHL 17. Here are some of the most interesting numbers after this late December patch.

Rookie sensation Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs saw a one-point bump up to an 86 overall, and Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid got a four-point bump up to an 92 after helping lead Edmonton to a comfortable position right now in third-place in the Pacific Division. Vancouver Canucks rookie defenseman Troy Stecher saw the biggest change in stats, though, going from a 72 overall to an 80 overall, a full eight-point boost in this patch. Stecher has 10 points in 29 games this season and notched his first career goal back on November 13th against the Dallas Stars. He’s seen a steady increase in ice time and all of these factors have led to a higher ranking.

On the other side of the puck, Auston Matthews’ boost up in Toronto was counteracted by defenseman Roman Polak’s slashing of his rating from an 85 to an 81, by far the biggest drop of any player hit with a negative to their rating this go around.

In terms of overall changes, the Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Winnipeg Jets saw the most players have changes with seven each. After seeing Columbus’s 16-game winning streak and Toronto’s terrific Centennial Classic play, it’s no wonder these teams got a lot of boosts spread around. The Buffalo Sabers, Dallas Stars, Ottawa Senators, and San Jose Sharks saw the least changes of teams that had changes, with only two players being adjusted, included both Sharks and Senators players receiving only negative changes.

Overall, this update saw 122 players having their numbers adjusted, with 66 (54.1%) of those players getting a positive boost. The St. Louis Blues were the only team not to have a single player’s stats change, but we expect that to change in the next update after an epic 4-1 victory in the Winter Classic at Busch Stadium. If you’re curious to see how specific teams have changed before you head online with your favorite squad, check out the link.

EA SPORTS DECEMBER UPDATE

And speaking of playing online, be sure to tune in every Tuesday at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT for more of Hockey Achievements’ Tuesday Night Hockey. Our own play-by-play savant Ray Carsillo takes on all comers in both head-to-head and EASHL matchups. Winners will receive 2000 points that can be put towards pucks here at Hockey Achievements, and everyone gets 500 just for participating. If you’d rather just watch, stay tuned to Hockey Achievements or twitch.tv/hockeyachievements.

As great as the NHL series from EA Sports is, for many years it wasn’t the only hockey offering out there for gamers. More “arcade”-type experiences—ranging from the Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey series in the late 90s, to the early 2000s’ NHL Hitz franchise from Midway—presented more off-the-wall experiences in the vein of what Blitz, The Bigs, and NBA Jam did for football, baseball, and basketball respectively. Unfortunately, all we have left of many of those games are the memories, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t yearn for something a little goofier now and again. Enter V7 Entertainment, a small startup game developer in Vancouver who have heard our cries for something a bit more lighthearted, and are planning to release a game called Old Time Hockey for the Xbox One, PS4, and PC, sometime in early 2017.

Old Time Hockey is a throwback in a multitude of ways. Not only does it feature a modern control scheme, but also a simplified, NHL 94 sort of option, and a one-handed “Beer Mode” where everything can be done with one stick and one set of bumper buttons. This way you can play with just a couple buttons like back in the old arcades—using one hand to play and drinking a beer with the other! The game also features bone-crushing hits, bench-clearing brawls, flaming nets, and even a full-fledged campaign (more on that in a bit). Oh, and did we mention it’s set in the 1970s? No helmets here! Pompadours and pucks all around, folks! The one drawback is that also like a lot of those arcade games of old, the game won’t feature online versus at all. The small developer would rather have no online than crappy online, and that’s definitely the right call in our books.

Local versus exhibition, a full-season mode, and that campaign I mentioned earlier, though, sounds like it should be more than enough to keep us satiated. The campaign is especially enticing. In it, players will join the Charlestown Blues—an obvious tribute to the Charlestown Chiefs from Slapshot—midway through a miserable season and wallowing in the basement of the Bush Hockey League. It’s up to you to turn them around in the final 40 games of the season, while earning bonus points for completing objectives like shutouts and Gordie Howe hat tricks along the way to unlock more abilities for your player and the Blues.

We’re not sure how the final product will turn out, but we here at Hockey Achievements definitely have high hopes for this vintage video game, and can’t wait to try to bring the Blues some glory. Be sure to stay tuned to Hockey Achievements for more on Old Time Hockey in the future, and let us know if you’d like to see us try it out on our weekly Tuesday Night Hockey Twitch stream when it’s released! Might be a nice change of pace, even if its just Ray playing on the couch with some buddies and some brewskis. In the meantime, enjoy Old Time Hockey’s launch trailer and be sure to take part in this week’s challenge!