Game Review – Hollow Knight: A Love Letter


Hollow Knight is a perfect game.

I know, a bit grandios to begin a review of a game with such a definitive and superlative statement, but I truly believe there is no other way to describe this title.

So hear me out.

Let’s start with the gameplay:

Smooth, precise and varied. Challenging, without being punishing. Exciting, but allows you to breathe. The pacing is well mannered and accessible. Rarely does it feel like the game is being unfair, even when you fail more than once.

Attacks feel weighted, even while playing as a tiny character. A character identified as small, not only by the environment, but by the NPCs themselves. Yet, you are strong, and feel as such. Your character is an agile warrior, and you are constantly reminded with a clever progression of mobility upgrades and swift attacks, but you don’t become an overpowered God to early game monsters, either. Anything can kill you, and you are always required to play the dance of mechanics. There is something satisfying in this, as predecessors like Dark Souls have shown.

Dance, monkey.

While there is certainly souls/metroidvania inspiration in this game, I hesitate to compare it too much, as it is so very able to stand on its own legs. While some mechanics may be lifted, others are simply things it has in common. Such as the immaculate and deliberate level design. Rewarding exploration and discovery. Non-linear storytelling and unguided pathfinding. The challenging gameplay and varied bosses, requiring you to learn mechanics. There are a number of things which have a bit of a souls-like/metroidvania feel, and the fact that you have to go “get” your body after dying in order to reclaim some of your life does have some parallels for sure.

But all of those things contribute, and never feel reused or stolen. Namely, because the game’s world itself is unique and fascinating.

I want to preface this next part with the fact that I don’t like bugs. Spiders creep me out, and even just the idea of visiting Australia gives me anxiety because of how huge some of the bugs are. Hell, I’ve never even seen Antz or A Bugs Life, (and I am the appropriate age to have seen them) because that’s how not interested I am in bugs.

It is kind of adorable.

So when I say that this marvelous little bug world really drew me in, I want you to understand that I otherwise I have no interest in entomology or even just having bugs near me. It is easily the most immersive 2D game world ever designed, in my opinion. Character design is diverse and creative. Monsters are varied and curious, not always just typical “bad guys.” Boss fights are glorious and reward you in unexpected ways. Sometimes you meet a new friend. Sometimes you earn the respect of warrior-leaders. Sometimes you’re just learning something new.

Dung Defender is an incredible name, and you wish you thought of it.

The lore is also deep, while never spoon-fed. You have to read, converse and make decisions to unravel the mysterious world around you. There are some aspects debated to this day, such as the result of spirits being hit by the Dream Nail–an important weapon given to you, which gains power upon striking lingering ghosts–and whether or not it is good or bad for the spirits, as many you find are innocents and kind souls. This is the kind of thing which makes great games stand the test of time. Hollow Knight is a game worth pondering over, while you play it.

You want lore? We got lore for days.

I suppose I can admit to some bias when it comes to this kind of game. I do love metroidvanias, and I consider Super Metroid to be one of the greatest games of all time, without question. I like sidescrollers, and I like platformers, and Hollow Knight is most certainly inspired by some of the classics which guided the early game industry as we know it. It doesn’t hold back on platforming, either, and even has some challenging spots which require fairly precise wall-jumping. I wouldn’t call it as punishing as say, Super Meat Boy, or Celeste, however, and much of the truly heavy platforming is relegated to side areas which are not mandatory to progressing the game.

Mostly I just love existing in this little bug world, which to me is the sign of a truly great game. I remember when I was young, playing Ocarina of Time on my N64, I’d just ride on my horse around the open world for hours. Just ride. I can’t name too many games where I just want to spend time in the world without any specific intent to accomplish anything, and Hollow Knight is one where I’ve done circles around the map, just to see if there are any new undiscovered nooks and crannies.

Lots of goodies to find, too.

It’s safe to say I’m pretty excited for the follow-up, Silksong to release (hopefully) this year. As such, I’d really like to point out the wonderful developer of this franchise, Team Cherry. I own this game on both Steam and Switch, have pumped more than 60 hours into both versions, and would say that the performance is indistinguishable on both. It always runs at a steady 60fps, and I have never experienced so much as an obvious frame drop, glitch, or even localization error. It runs as smoothly on a technically hand-held console as it does on my brand new gaming PC with an overclocked i7 and 3080.

Part of this is due to the fact that they don’t give release dates until the game is close to finished. Which is easier for a smaller team, for sure. I followed their Switch development cycle fairly closely, and while they’d give updates every few months, they’d continually say they weren’t comfortable giving a release date until they were sure it was polished enough to do so. The same methodology has continued with Silksong. I believe this is the correct way to publicly develop a game. Internal goals are fine, but as soon as you tell the public a date, you create expectations, and we have a Cyberpunk, or No Man’s Sky situation where a game is delayed several times and still released unfinished. The only expectation we should have is that a game be finished. The date is irrelevant if it’s unachievable. (Expect an article about the fallacy of setting expectations via release dates sometime in the near future)

TBA until it’s done. As it should be.

I could probably write another several hundred words about all of the things that make this game great, but I feel like I may have made my point to the uninitiated, and am just preaching to the choir when it comes to the existing fans, so I will leave you with this:

Hollow Knight is a perfect example of why this is the era of indie games. Big publishers continue to have their blunders by either misreading the market, or releasing unfinished games, while spectacularly good indie titles are coming from tiny studios with big hearts, and a passion for what they’re making. No amount of Ray-Traced realism, and hi-res, next-gen graphics can replace that in my gaming collection.

Modern indie masterpieces like Hollow Knight are a glorious reminder that games are made by artists; and there’s a big difference between corporate-designed pop music, and an orchestral symphony.


Game Review – Warhammer 40K: Dakka Squadron: The Flyboyz are back in town

Yes, I’ve started recording gameplay, again. Maybe I get more than 11 views on this one!

A year or two ago I caught wind of a “Warhammer 40,000 Orks flight sim” in development. Naturally, my interest was piqued, being a fan of the universe in most of its aspects, having even manned and painted a 2500 point Imperial Guard tabletop army. I’m also a fan of flight sims and arcade shooters, so it’s right up my alley. Plus, we have another solid example of what makes the Warhammer universe so interesting in the first place: no shortage of fun new ideas.

While Games Workshop has certainly had its share of missteps over the years, one of the things I’ve always appreciated is their willingness to give their IP to small developers, at least more recently, anyway. (I’m not going to get into Warhammer vs. Warcraft in this article, but give it a search if you don’t know what I’m talking about and would like to). The mega-publishers like Activision and EA never want to leave their own formulas, and so we get Star Wars Battlefront 1 and 2 as sequels to games with literally the exact same name, which could have actually made 10x more money if they were simply remasters of the original games instead of loot-box-laden EA suckfests. But I digress…

Image result for star wars battlefront 2 copies on shelves
We really should never forget that EA was unable to sell a brand new Star Wars game at Christmas.

So what is Warhammer 40K: Dakka Squadron?

It’s a fun, arcade-y, shoot-em-up with an emphasis on Ork silliness, and it strikes that chord well.

The voice-overs are goofy and on brand. The Ork visual style is well utilized. Everything looks slapped together, and made to blow things up, and they do. Even the Ork aesthetic philosophy of adding modifiers through pure faith are present. So your red paint job does in fact make your plane go faster.

The graphics are not bad, but fairly low polygon to work across many platforms. It did released on mobile, after all. So you can find it on Android, and iOS, as well as Steam. I won’t be talking about gameplay on mobile, however, since I am a fully refreshed member of the #pcmasterrace with a brand new RTX 3080 and all. So I am reviewing exclusively the Steam released, “Flyboyz Edition.”

Your colour choices are almost as important as they are in the tabletop game.

The gameplay is simple. Maybe a little too simple. There is definitely no “sim” to be found here. You have very little control over your roll orientation, and you do little more than Star Fox style spins when you press A or D. This can be a bit disorienting, as your plane will make its own decision to right itself if you do a loop. They definitely encourage you to use set turn-back maneuvers (a single button press will reverse your direction) rather than “real” fancy flying techniques. Which is fair, because like I said, there’s no “sim” here, and therefore, no real physics or lift or anything like that going on.

Go fast. Shoot stuff.

Despite the lack of realism, it’s still a lot of fun. One of your primary attacks against other fighters is simply ramming them when you are close enough. I can’t name too many games in the genre which actually encourage mid-air collisions. The action is fast-paced, and the missions don’t expect more than 10-15 minutes of work for each. Blow up a bunch of stuff, get some upgrades, move on to the next fight. The variety of weapons and gameplay are more or less what you’d expect from this Orks themed flying game. You have nimble fighters, and bulky Bommas with a variety of tools, guns, rockets and Boom Bombs to flatten everything in your path.

Lots of stuff to unlock and blow things up with.

The game isn’t without some obvious problems, however. While I haven’t experienced this particular issue as an English language player, I’ve read about a number of localization issues with other languages which mostly sound like the result of laziness. Maybe they never hired anyone and just used Google translate. A smart idea would be to ask for community localization efforts, though, still rather equally lazy.

The AI of enemy units is just straight up awful, as well. You will consistently see them bumping into walls and making very little effort to correct themselves. Since it’s clearly meant as a casual shooter, I wouldn’t say they need a challenge boost by much, but it would be nice just for immersion sake if the mobs had better pathing, considering the arenas are pretty small. Which is my other major gripe: the arena size boundaries are tight. Very tight. They could perhaps loosen up the ceiling a bit, just to make diving and bombing less cramped.

Not sure “AI” is even the phrase I’d use. The I seems to be missing.

Putting those issues aside, it is still a lot of fun, and has a breezy price point around $20 on Steam. If I had to rank it as it is, I’d give it a solid 7, with room for improvement. It could be a 7.5 or an 8 with localization and AI fixes, along with some minor gameplay polish.

If you’re looking for some fast 40K aerial action with a clever Ork theme and few expectations from the player other than having fun, this might be what you’re looking for.


P.S. I died so many times making this review.

Game Review – Valheim is Wurm Online on easy mode: and that’s a good thing


Wait, you’ve never heard of Wurm Online?? Shame on you.

You may be more familiar with its moddable offline-ish baby, Wurm Unlimited, which is available on Steam. It’s a standalone version of the MMO, giving players freedom to manipulate the game client and host private servers.

So what is Wurm, and what does it have to do with this early access Viking game that everyone keeps comparing to Minecraft and Rust? A lot, actually.

It all started with a game studio called Mojang Specifications AB, co-founded by the one and only Notch. Oh, the guy who who made Minecraft, you mean? Yeah, that guy.

Microsoft/Mojang has since removed all mention of Notch/Persson from Minecraft

Wurm Online was the brainchild of then colleagues, Rofl Janssen and Markus Persson. It can only be described as a blend of the classic MMORPGs like EverQuest and Ultima Online, and a clear technical predecessor to the formula we recognize from Minecraft. The landscape is fully shapeable, and ever changing. Trees grow back, and eventually take over unclaimed land. Monsters roam randomly around the map, freely challenging anything and anyone in their path. Crafting is mind-bendingly complex, and allows you to build a variety of tools, weapons, vehicles and structures out of many different materials with curious and even creative results. You can sail vast bodies of hostile waters, and navigate between continents. It might even have the most interesting, and dynamic skybox ever made, displaying evolving weather patterns, including wind, rain, snow, storms, rainbows, as well as an elaborate star map with a constant cycle of celestial bodies and even occasional eclipses. Both world and sky are truly open.

Snow rainbow? S’no problem.

All that said, it’s also the heaviest grind of any game I’ve ever played. Putting up a building requires an extraordinary amount of time and effort involving cutting down swaths of forest, and digging up many actual boatloads of clay, iron, stone and whatever other building materials you can think up. It’s an immense timesink just to feel like you’ve made any progress. There is a sense of accomplishment from putting in so much work, but it’s hard to justify the amount of time it takes just to get resources.

The combat is also… wonky, and dated. It has a lot of the classics of RPGs like swordplay, bows, magic, etc, but it’s not exactly “action” based. It’s almost like real-time turn-based, if that makes any sense. It feels more like you’re rolling dice than swinging a sword.

Nothing says “exciting combat” like clicking through menus and pointing directional arrows.

So again, wtf does any of this have to do with Valheim? Well, it has most of those things I described, but without the ruinous grind. Building is easy, and fun. Combat is exciting and satisfying. It’s so many of the things that made Wurm interesting, but better.

It has a marvelous and beautiful skybox, with dynamic weather patterns and great wind effects. It has an easily moldable landscape, allowing you to sculpt the terrain to your will and build to your heart’s content. The sailing is spectacular, challenging, dangerous, and an absolute adventure all on its own. Combat is simple, yet fluid and rewards skill without overtly punishing casual players. There is an endless spree of dungeons, dangerous monster spawns, and even a story to follow if you so wish.

Dungeon diving with friends? Check.

Although, if you don’t wish, you don’t have to. You can just have fun with your friends, trying not to die to falling trees and screaming boars. Yes, just falling trees are dangerous. Hell, you can even sail off the edge of the world. When in Norse Mythology, do as the Nords.

…and I feel fine.

Many of these things seem eerily similar to what Wurm was trying to accomplish when development started nearly two decades ago, but Valheim did the thing Wurm couldn’t do: make it fun and accessible. Which I suppose is also where Mojang was able to succeed with Minecraft.

While it’s certainly easy to compare Valheim to Minecraft for its sprawling open world and ability to win hearts so easily, it takes existing in your little Viking world to the next levelit’s a brilliantly refreshed formula in a genre that has been beaten into the ground. Minecraft was a unique revelation when it gained popularity. By comparison, Valheim is like a diamond standing out in a sea of broken glass.

Realistic waves, wind and weather physics, while being hunted by giant sea monsters? Check.

Let me be clear: I am beyond bored with “survival” games. I can’t stay interested in games like The Forest, or Rust, or Ark, or Conan Exiles, or 7 Days to Die, or Terraria, or, or, or… unless I have peers pressuring me to play with them. While it’s a great co-op experience, I can play Valheim solo and do so confidently, without feeling like the constant monitoring of food and other resources is just an arbitrary chorewhich often ruins experience for me in other games.

I think that’s what makes the game so compelling in the first place. It’s not really doing anything new at all. It’s so easy to compare it to a lot of other popular titles. I like to be a pedantic hipster relating to Wurm instead of Minecraft, but there’s no question that it borrows from more popular and similar games. Yet, it still stands out. Even with chunky pixel art graphics, it has a gorgeous aesthetic, and an extraordinarily immersive environment. Even with familiar cooking and crafting progression, it still feels fresh and creative. Even with simple combat mechanics, it’s still fun and engaging.

Giant deer that shoots lightning? Check.

It’s hard to describe how well this game rides the line between fresh and familiar.

Big studios wish they could crack the secret to selling a million copies of a new IP that isn’t pushing the boundaries of game design itself like Death Stranding, or reaching out to the broadest of demographics like Among Us.

Valheim is a beautiful reminder that a game doesn’t need brutal originality to feel fresh, inviting and completely new.


P.S. Can someone tell me why people compare it to Dark Souls? I don’t see it.

Game Review – Starpoint Gemini 2


Game review – Starpoint Gemini 2
Platform – PC (exclusive)
Developer – Little Green Men Games
Publisher – Iceberg Interactive

Release date – 26 Sept, 2014

Rating – 8/10


Because no space-related article is complete without a Douglas Adams quote.

Starpoint Gemini 2 is the first real *complete* space title to come along since the abysmal launch of X: Rebirth. Having left a considerable gap in the market for the hardcore space-sim crowd, we’ve seen the rise of titles like Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous among a few botched attempts like Transverse. Since the closest to completion at this point (yet still quite aways off) is Elite: Dangerous, but has a rather steep point of entry to the beta, your best bet for spacey goodness in a released package at a relatively inexpensive price is Starpoint Gemini 2.


Expecting a vast, open void of quiet trade routes and peaceful sailing? This is not that game.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Starpoint Gemini 2 is its unabashed density. Space is not wide open and quiet. You will encounter many anomalies, wrecks, asteroid belts, wormholes, ruins and countless hostiles trying to drill you a new asshole — and that’s just while flying from A to B. There’s no dull moment in this universe. Yet, amid the nearly staggering depth and complexity, there is an apparent simplicity to the control scheme. You won’t be doing a lot of dog fighting and navigating, rather you will be angling your ship for better weapon and shield coverage while giving commands for boarding procedures and defense protocols. You are made to feel more like a ship captain than a pilot. This perhaps takes a bit of the “sim” out of the game from the perspective of flying the ship, but adds a lot in terms of commanding one.

This is actually one of the things the game really has going for it. Rather than relying on pure skill and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants speed, the game plays out a little more like an action RPG. You have skills and powerups based on your class, giving you tactical advantages for say, commanding fleets and using boarding parties, rather than just blasting your way in and out of any given situation.


It's a spacesimactionRPG.

True to the space-sim genre, the title has a fairly steep learning curve in the early game. There’s not a lot of reward for your time spent, and sometimes you just feel vastly under-powered. However, stick with it long enough, and the ratio flips. Suddenly, you are building a fleet around you, commanding a rather devastating ship of your own, and you begin to feel like a force of destruction within the universe. Due to the contentious nature of the many NPC factions, there’s no shortage of wars to be waged or space to conquer even outside of the main story-line.


The rather detailed and expansive map requires manual exploration, too.

This brings me to the title’s biggest flaw: the campaign. It’s both boring and poorly written. It tries too hard to be compelling with the most cliche revenge-but-deeper-than-you-think-wink-wink played out archetypes imaginable, with long, uninspired speeches from every damn character, which are all horribly voiced. I don’t just mean the acting is bad, either. The audio quality and volume levels vary between EVERY character, and it sounds like there was no direction at all. No one even tried to put a little effect on the voices to sound spacey. As a guy who is actively trying to work in the audio side of the game industry, I am almost offended by how bad the voice work is in this title. If anyone from LGMG reads this: please drop me a line and I will gladly run your vocals through a compressor or something at the very least. It’s seriously bad enough to make me want to give up on the campaign altogether.


TL;DR, never mind the yawn-worthy VO. The ability to skip has never been more welcome.

Despite the glaringly awful campaign, the game has more than enough to do to keep you interested. You can elect to forego the story altogether and just freeplay your way around its colourful universe. Its ARPG inspiration means menus and contextual system management, while still as complex as you would expect from a space sim, are easily managed and controlled via its well-designed user interface. While it can sometimes feel a little candy-coated, I mean it with the highest compliment that everything just “makes sense.” It’s refreshing to play a space sim with such a simple UI that manages to retain the depth of control I demand. While there is a bit of a learning curve compared to broader reaching titles, it’s not nearly as steep as some of its predecessors.

While it’s hard to compare Starpoint Gemini 2 to some if its competitors (namely Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous) as a space-sim, it manages to set itself apart with its RPG elements and clever UI. It will never match up to the hardcore realism of other titles, nor does it try to. It’s a great entry on its own, and should be a valuable little gem in any space-sim enthusiast’s collection. Here’s to hoping the main campaign and voice work get some attention, because it could be the difference between a great space game, and one of the best to come along in a while.



P.S. Space is pretty.

Game Review – Rising Storm/Red Orchestra 2


Game review – Rising Storm/Red Orchestra 2
Platform – PC (exclusive)
Developer – Tripwire Interactive
Publisher – Tripwire Interactive

Release date – 30 May, 2013

Rating – 9/10



While this is an older release strapped onto a title from 3 years ago with an already aging engine, I felt the need to write a review as it doesn’t get nearly enough praise or attention. Yeah, it’s PC exclusive, so it’ll never get the exposure of a cross-platform, broad demographic “AAA” title – but that’s already a selling point. It’s not trying for flash and flare. There aren’t massive piles of motion-captured slow-motion animations or giant robots. This is a game about substance over cosmetic, and it delivers. My 232 hours in-game stands as a tribute.

In a genre dominated by prestigious franchises blandly following their own trends, there exists a game which has dug in its roots and produced a first-person-shooter focusing on bullet drop off and perimeter fire. Weapons that jam, overheat and require maintenance. Rewarding accuracy and patience over kill ratios. It’s a game where leadership can easily turn the tides of a match in more ways than a kill streak. In short: it’s an online FPS that focuses on realism and makes no apology for it.


Can't see them? Don't worry, you will learn. (You'll also die a lot)

While there is a more forgiving casual mode for this game, the most populated are the “realism” servers, and for good reason. Once you play on one of these hardcore maps, Call of Duty and Battlefield will seem like on-rails arcade shooters. There are no decals over players’ heads, friend or foe, there’s no ammo counter, no on-screen aiming reticle, and you can easily die bleeding out from a single pistol shot if you don’t bandage up quick. This is not your average shooter. If anything, it could be considered a WWII battle simulator.

Not sure how much ammo is left in the clip? You have to eject it and look. MG keeps overheating and under-performing? Swap the barrel. Getting too many team kills? Start shooting at faces instead of backs of heads. Spawning comes in reinforcement waves rather than individual timers, so learn to move as a unit. And for fuck sakes keep your head down. Cover is your friend. Don’t sprint across open fields like an idiot. Check your map and listen to your commander when he’s calling air strikes so you don’t get caught in your own bombing runs.


 If a bullet doesn't get you, the mortars, artillery, mines and grenades will.

Yet, beyond the gritty realism lies a game with a lot of heart and a ton of fun if you can handle the intensity. I’ll admit, the attention to detail was almost off-putting at first, and I can see some players being frustrated enough to pass. If you stick with it, though, it’s the most satisfying experience you can have in a game like this.

It’s truly spectacular in execution. Seeing a successful artillery strike wipe away a whole regiment (or being the one caught in the blast) is impressive in itself and actually requires teamwork, as only a Squad Leader can “spot” a target, while the lone Commander reserves the ability to call in the strike. It’s not to suggest there aren’t some cool things you can do as a grunt, either.



The weapons are a fairly standard fare selection of WW2 hardware, but Tripwire’s attention to detail shines right through the crowd with how they actually function. I can’t name another title where you occasionally have to swap a machine gun’s barrel, or physically check your ammo count, or with such realistic bullet trajectories. The flamethrower is nigh awe inspiring. It’s beautiful. The flames actually bounce and reflect off walls, and fill up rooms. Victims just melt away in a pool of screams.

The maps are equally as detailed as the weapons. They are large and sprawling; covered with wreckage, weapons, ruins, foliage, coated with a layer of mayhem and gloomy atmosphere. You never quite know where its limits are until you hit them. I’ve never played another game that felt so much like I was actually on a battlefield. It’s dangerous, difficult, and unforgiving. I love it.


Yes. That is both recent and free content.

Rising Storm, having been released  as what could only seriously be called an “add-on” to Red Orchestra has actually caused them both to evolve. Red Orchestra started taking tank warfare more seriously, (yes, this game has tanks, and holy shit are they challenging to use) and Rising Storm continues to pile on new maps and weapons. Nevertheless, Tripwire has never made me pay for any extra content since I originally bought into the beta. Every content update has been free. Not only is Tripwire dedicated to keeping this title alive, they aren’t nickle and diming us for it.


Good guy, Tripwire.

I cannot stress the importance of this game to the industry. Tripwire should serve as a model for any developer who actually intends to cater to their audience. They listen, and they deliver. They don’t dilute the formula to broaden their demographic. In fact, one of their more recent updates actually adds improvements to “Classic Mode” which is somehow even more hardcore than “Realism Mode.” This is a game that prides itself on being difficult and doesn’t apologize for it, even if it means alienating the casual crowd. Is that really a bad thing? Perhaps if you just want to make a ton of money.

Sure, it could be rebuilt into a new engine for prettier graphics, bringing it into the “next-gen.” You could hire hollywood actors to have their faces eerily planted into the game for no apparent reason, and you could make dramatic movie-esque trailers full of explosions and filters to show during the Super Bowl.

If instead, you’d rather have a great game that won’t compromise its greatest strengths for the sake of extra sales –  you get an honest developer like Tripwire, and a product that deserves far more praise than it gets.



P.S. Punny Boromir is correct.

Game Review – Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor


Game review – Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Platform – PC, PS4, XBONE, PS3, 360
Developer – Monolith Productions, Inc.
Publisher – WB Games

Release date – 30 Sept, 2014

Rating – 9/10


Actually, it's less "walking into Mordor" and more "killing into Mordor."

As a long time fan of Tolkien and his works, I (and I assume many others) have been craving a game which doesn’t sum up to yet another adaptation of the movies. When Shadow of Mordor was first announced, I was cautiously optimistic. We finally have a release featuring a new character who actually gets to stomp around in Mordor – something even Boromir was hesitant to undertake. However, this title shares more than a few similarities with Star Wars: Force Unleashed in its attempt to bridge the two main trilogies with a character who has as many abilities as one could allow in that universe and remain faithful. While I considered Force Unleashed (the first one, specifically) to be somewhat underrated, it was widely received as a disappointment. With predecessors like Jedi Academy and Knights of the Old Republic, it could have taken a few more notes.

Thankfully, WB had the review embargo lifted a few days prior to release, and gave copies to the big sites (IGN, PC Gamer, etc). It was hard to ignore the impressive gameplay videos and raving reviews. Could this be the open world LotR franchise title I’ve been hoping for?


You will never play another game with so many exploding heads.

Abso-fucking-lutely. For the first two hours, I couldn’t even handle how immediately you are dropped into being the sole perpetrator of the mass genocide of Uruk-hai. With a seemingly endless assortment of decapitations, impalements and other brutal blade attacks, this game might as well have been called, “1000 Ways to Kill Orcs.”

While the combat system borrows heavily from the Arkham series (same publisher, after all) and takes cues from Assassin’s Creed as well, it’s quite refined and satisfying in its execution. There are an impressive variety of abilities and each ability has multiple animations, so you never feel like you’re only relying on a strict regiment of block/attack. As both a human and a “wraith,” you have an array of devastation to unleash upon your foe; whether you wish to rely on the skills of a cunning warrior, or the powers which come with your link to the netherworld. There’s also a nice balance between stealth and active combat which doesn’t appear to favour one over the other. As a whole, the fighting system feels round and well thought out.


 I love doing this one.

Even with all of the head chopping and brutal shanking, the thing that ties the whole room together is the Nemesis System. In most games like this, your life is bound to a series of checkpoints and saves. You and the game progress along with these checkpoints and when you die, you restart from the last one, as does the rest of the game. However, because it is established very early on that you are stuck in a deathless limbo, your demise only means you will return again soon after. So, rather than your death forcing you and the game to turn back time, it is now a mechanic for the progression of orcs in a similar way that their death lead to your own progress. Yes. NPCs level up by killing you.


And now for something completely different...

The map starts off with a set of 20 captains and 5 warchiefs. As you kill them off, they will be replaced by others at random, or by grunts that happen to get the lucky last strike. So not only can a mere grunt be promoted up the chain of command by killing you, he will remember killing you and taunt you for it. Some may actively hunt you as well. Sometimes, captains you believe slain will come back with a vengeance, show up at the worst possible moment, and become a giant pain in the ass you consistently have trouble killing because you can’t keep your emotions in check when he pops up on the screen.


Fuck this guy so much.

What this translates into is a game world that feels alive. It seems to progress in spite of you. The Uruks continue to roam around the map, fight among themselves, hunt dangerous creatures, tame slaves and generally go on about their business. Because you’re thrown into this right away, there’s never a lull in the action. There’s little urgency to push the plot forward just to have fun; invading feasts and ruining duels is rewarding on its own merit.

Each captain comes along with his own unique skill set, too. So even if you end up seeing a few repeats, they rarely have the same weaknesses and strengths. Variety is not amiss.


According to the voice over, it's pronounced "douche."

In true Lord of the Rings fashion, instead of amassing an armory full of gear, the weapons you have are named and unique to your character. You’ll even complete specific missions which craft the lore behind them so to become (in)famous orc-slaying relics. Each weapon can be slotted with up to 5 runes which allow you tweak for your play-style. There is a wide assortment of runes with random stats as well as “epic” unique runes with set stats. Only captains and warchiefs will drop runes, so they are your main incentive for taking down the big bosses.


Is your dagger legendary, or are you just happy to see me?

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor delivers in a way I honestly was not expecting. On its shell, it looks like it might be a bland ripoff of another formula’s success, but it has so much more than that going on under the hood. While the combat isn’t revolutionary, it’s well-refined, and the Nemesis System more than makes up for it in the revolutionary department. The story isn’t particularly original, but it’s well-voiced and cast. The artwork is fantastic, and the lore is respected. It’s not a perfect game but it gets high marks for execution and having the guts to do something new.

However, at the end of all the criticism and nitpicking the game truly excels in one area: fun. It’s so much fun, all the little things don’t matter and you remember why you like gaming in the first place. Yeah, it’s that kinda good.



Mordor: Where killing orcs is a means of transportation.

Something, Something Game News – A recap: Dead space games and and even deader orcs


I’ve been a little lax this week on getting the blog up, but I’ve been pretty busy working on a game for which its Kickstarter will be launching soon. The past 10 days have also seen several game releases that I’ve been trying my best to review. I’ll likely have a review up tomorrow, and I’ll work on a few more posts over the next few days so I can be back to my regular blogging schedule next week.


Don't forget to help fund my "start-up company" so I can retire early. Sitting on my ass, here I come!

Nevertheless, I couldn’t let this week go by without a few honorable (and dishonorable) mentions:

Along with recording some voice-overs and composing a few background tracks, I’ve also been playing the shit out of WB’s new release: Shadow of Mordor. I have a full review in the works, but at this point I can tell you that it’s the most fun you can have decapitating the villainous Uruks of Middle-Earth since… well there aren’t really any other games that let you do it with such fervent variety. This title could have been called “1000 Ways to Kill Orcs.”


It's ok, he wasn't using that head anyway.

However, the big highlight (for me) came with Transverse already giving up on their shifty crowd-funding campaign. As I had noted in a previous rant, Transverse came on the heels of other big, crowd-sourced space titles, did so without a drop of originality, and handled it with the grace of a wild boar figure skating while being fucked in the ass by a mute donkey. How’s that for imagery?

After a little more than two weeks, Piranha Games had only managed to fund about $12,000 of their intended $500,000 initial goal. Meanwhile, Star Citizen was just recognized by Guinness as the most crowd-funded thing ever. Time to go back to the drawing board, PGI.


Of course, PGI emptied their forums in a predictably fascist move. No hilarious meltdowns to read. :(

Otherwise, I hope you guys are all having a good week and I’ll be posting regularly again by Monday!



Because South Park.

Game Review – Gauntlet™


Game review – Gauntlet™
Platform – PC (exclusive, for now)
Developer – Arrowhead Game Studios
Publisher – WB Games

Release date – 23 Sept, 2014

Rating – 8/10


Because fuck making things easier on you.

Gauntlet is one of those legacy franchises that never fades away. Before there was Diablo, there was Gauntlet in all of its 8-bit glory. The premise is simple: Pick from a Wizard, Warrior, Elf or Valkyrie and stomp around in dungeons to find gold and kill monsters. There have been many incarnations of Gauntlet over the years, but the original arcade machine still stands out the most to me. I will say, however, the N64 release of Gauntlet: Legends was fantastic.

Nearly 30 years later, we have what can effectively be called a “reboot” of the franchise. No fancy title, no new characters. Pick your class and lets go dungeon diving.


Get ready for a frantic romp with a classic level of difficulty. I.E. Expect to die a lot.

Gauntlet is definitely a back-to-basics title. The graphics aren’t amazing, but get the point across. There’s no complicated story, although there is a surprising amount of voice work and banter among the few characters in the game, which does a lot to enhance the atmosphere. There isn’t a vast plethora of items to collect, and instead they have rather steep prerequisites and prices to unlock. Personally, this adds a more rewarding level of satisfaction when finally gearing out your character with the best items, rather than constantly finding duplicates in massive piles of loot. Not that I’m opposed to massive loot piles, it’s just a nice change of pace from what has become a standard in modern dungeon crawlers and ARPGs.


Want this tome? All you have to do is beat the game on the hardest mode.

Each character has an array of abilities with a unique style of play suited for its class. There may only be 4 classes to choose from, but none play at all alike. The Elf is a ranger with mostly ranged abilities and is well designed for speed and accuracy. The Valkyrie is probably the best balanced between melee and ranged attacks, with a rather Captain America style shield throw. The Wizard is the most interesting, as he has a spell combination system not unlike Magicka (makes sense, Arrowhead originally developed Magicka). You press two elements (Ice then Fire, for example) and it arms a particular spell to use, ranging from lightning bolts, and fireballs, to shields and freeze beams. As expected, he’s pretty handy for crowd control. The Warrior is unfortunately, the weakest character because he has only rather basic melee attacks, and this is a game where you do not want to be caught in the middle of a crowd. I honestly hope they decide to tweak him later on, as he is both somewhat boring and difficult to use compared to the others which seem far more thought out.


A PC exclusive designed to play best with a controller? Blasphemy!* *Sarcasm

A strange and immediately noticed feature is this title’s dedication to being played with a controller. As the developer currently has no plans™ to port to console, it does seem odd that such a game would lean heavily into controller support. However, with its co-op features implemented so well, it starts to make a lot of sense. It is indeed a rare game on PC which allows for simultaneous local and online co-op play. This would really only make sense by plugging a controller (or 4) into the same machine. Since most of the PC gamers I know have at least a Logitech F310 (the 510 and 710 are pretty great, as well) or something similar, it’s actually quite a welcome feature for quick and easy multiplayer Gauntlet.

The only snag is that you cannot drop into an already created game. All joining must be in the lobby. It’s something that could receive some attention in the future, but it’s certainly not a deal breaker at this point. Especially not with how fun co-op play is, which even throws in a few extra competitive elements, and compares your scores to others via leaderboards.


Some clever chaps even have names with "penis" in them.

Gauntlet is a return to classic dungeon crawling with just enough modern flare to bring it into the 21st century. It has that arcade machine appeal which is often lost on the PC audience. In an age where multiplayer gaming has become rather impersonal, it’s great to see co-op games which encourage you to play with friends rather than sit in sterile lobbies.

With a little bit of character balance tweaking (seriously, fix the warrior), and what would be an extremely welcome ability to drop-in to co-op play, this game nearly has the potential to bring back Gauntlet as a franchise. It’s tons of fun for a $20 game.



P.S. Did you know that tips are shown during the loading screen?

Game Review – DG2: Defense Grid 2


Game review – DG2: Defense Grid 2
Platform – PC, Mac, Steam OS/Linux, XBONE, PS4
Developer – Hidden Entertainment

Release date – 23 Sept, 2014

Rating – 8.5/10


You will forever crave raspberries.

I have been a huge sucker for tower defense since the days when they were free flash games on Newgrounds. Since the advent of the mobile marketplace, there have been a huge flood of clones and clones of clones with micro-transaction stores, overused themes and reused assets. However, there have been a few gems among the sea of mediocrity, and this game’s PC exclusive predecessor, Defense Grid: The Awakening was indeed a rare diamond. It never felt like a quickly assembled time-killer. It was a full-featured title with dozens of maps, modes, upgrades and even a clever plot-line.

When Defense Grid 2 showed up for pre-order, I wasted no time jumping into Early Access. Unfortunately, it was little more than a demo with a couple of maps and no upgrades, so it was hard to make a critical judgement of how the finished game would look and for that matter, impossible to compare it to it’s predecessor. So, how does it stack up now that it’s been released?


Lasers now 140% prettier.

Right away, there is a massive visual improvement. For such a widely cross-platform title, it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s catering to any particular hardware than what you’re playing it on. It looks great, plays great, and fits right into the modern generation.

The maps are impressively designed with lush details, intrinsically capable of producing atmosphere and mood. The environment feels like it’s part of the  multi-directional pathways, instead of a complimentary after-thought. The main campaign is long and engaging with a clever story and several characters. The characters all have unique voice talent with what seems like hours of recording. Each map has nearly a dozen modes which can be played alone, with a friend or competitively both online and locally.


Each map is painstakingly layered. Someone spent some time and effort on this stuff.

They actually improved on the original formula. It still feels a lot like the original, but it’s not the same game twice. While the towers are mostly the same, there are new ways to use them with the simple addition of what is called the Boost Tower. When placed under any standard weapon tower, it can have various effects including boosting the damage, revealing stealth enemies and improving your score. On top of that, each tower has multiple upgrades which you can choose from before battle allowing you to tweak for every scenario.


You will also unlock a variety of commanders, each with his or her own special ability.

The path designs are truly Defense Grid in their unique combination of both set paths, and open grids allowing for a flexibility of gameplay unseen in most tower defense titles. Yet again, DG2 includes a new dynamic to the maps by providing sections which you can spend credits to add or move around.  Some may expand the path, while others simply give you a few extra squares to place towers. This might be my favourite new feature, and I can’t name another TD game with dynamically changing maps. Kudos for that one.

I should also be named an international felon if I failed to mention the “DG Architect” map editor feature. You can construct a map from the ground up and includes most, if not all of the in-game assets. All the trees, concrete and lava you can imagine.


Yes, it's as complicated as it looks.

DG2 is a fantastic reminder that even when a genre becomes saturated with garbage, there is still room for a shining example to burst from the sewage pipe. Hidden Entertainment has done just that with a sequel superior to its parent in nearly all ways. Between the varying selection of upgrades, modes and map alterations, you never have to play the same map the same way twice.

If you love tower defense, Defense Grid 2 will keep you busy for a long, long time.



P.S. The loading screens are works of literature.

Game Review – Marvel heroes 2015


Game review – Marvel Heroes 2015
Platform – PC (Exclusive)
Developer – Gazillion Entertainment

Rating – 8.5/10


When you see it...

I tend to be cautious and easily bored when it comes to games with a free-2-play model. They are often grindfests with a lot of flash, but also the intent of boring you just to get some money out of your pocket to advance more quickly. I’ve also witnessed many subscription-based titles convert to free-2-play because they didn’t have enough confidence in their original strategy. Personally, I don’t think subcription models aren’t worth using anymore, I just feel they need developers with the confidence and stride to actually execute. Considering the fact that so many games which began as subscription and switched to free-2-play have fallen apart faster than a drunken Palin. (City of Heroes comes to mind).

However, being a bit of a Marvel fan, seeing a fair number of positive reviews and at the recommendation of a few friends, I decided to jump into Marvel Heroes 2015. I never played the previous edition, so I have no basis for comparison, but all of my sources suggest it’s an improvement.


The sheer staggering number of available looks for Iron Man alone was enough to get my wallet out.

If you like Marvel superheroes, you will love this game. No, really. Each playable character has personality; from the impressive variety of voiced quips and remarks, to the many well-designed and detailed costumes. Heroes and villains will banter as they pass each other or while in combat. The maps and locations are well representative of their comic inspired settings. All in all, it’s a great exemplar to the Marvel universe.


Diversity is the name of the game. (They've since added Rogue and Star-Lord, too)

While it is a bit of a grind to get new characters (without spending real $$$ of course), there’s a pretty wide range of stuff to do. There are a few team-based events and raids, there’s not much you can’t do by yourself with many of the characters. You can follow the main story, or you can do individual maps via Terminals which allow you to pick a location to your liking. Many of these instances have daily rewards as well, along with the random daily bonuses for completing the assigned missions, plus you get a reward just for logging in once a day. Furthermore, there are week long events which occur nearly every week, constantly cycling new locations to find the best loot and bonuses. You will quite often find potions which boost your experience gain and item find percentages, making finding things a rather explosive experience.


I was using explosive in the literal sense. Loot bombs are a common occurrence.

Character creation is surprisingly complex, and I mean that in a good way. You can make your Iron Man into a missile launcher, a beam weapon, a melee artist or a combination of those. You tend to be best off specializing in one for maximum effect, but there’s no one way to play each character. Additionally, there are so many slots on each character for subtle customization and gearing up, you’ll be hard pressed to find two characters fit out exactly the same, even if they’re going for a similar build. Plus, there is the Omega skill tree, which allows you to continue adding small bonuses to each character long after you have reached max level. I actually prefer playing my max level characters, because there’s always a little more tweaking to be done.

Not to mention the “Team Up” heroes you can acquire, which follow you around like a sidekick, and also have a limited amount of customization. The possibilities are nearly endless, and that’s quite an achievement for a game using existing, well established characters.


Each of those 14 icons is a whole tree of interesting little bonuses.

Finally, the gameplay is fun. Yes, it’s a fairly clicky, hotbar-surfy type dungeon crawler, but many of the abilities are well rendered and executed. You feel like a superhero. It’s easy to see why this game has been getting good reviews. It caters well to its audience. It’s a bit buggy sometimes, and could use a cork for some of the memory leaks, but the developers are always active and working, as is evident by the weekly events and updates. The free-2-play model is used well by keeping players engaged and not forcing them to grind just to make progress. Leveling is relatively painless, especially once you have a few characters to 60 (there is a stacking experience bonus up to 200% BEFORE you apply potions and other bonuses), and loot is constantly thrown at you.



The only annoying thing you may find yourself having to pay for is extra storage space for all that loot (yes, you can only buy extra space with real cash… that’s where they get ya), but spending $10-15 for a little extra space seems like a pretty fair trade off, since there’s not much else you feel you need to drop money on. Everything else is cosmetic.

As a result, you have a free-2-play game that encourages you to play frequently, but doesn’t shake you down just so you can avoid feeling like your working to get some satisfaction out of it. Gazillion has done an impressive job with a popular franchise without needing the oversight of a mega-corp publisher.



P.S. Did I mention I like Iron Man?